Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 2nd Feb 2007 11:30 UTC, submitted by anonymous
Novell and Ximian When Novell and Microsoft announced their unlikely partnership, a part of the arrangement that got little attention at the time was that they'd create a joint research facility, where both company's technical experts would collaborate on new joint software solutions. Now, they're staffing up.
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No deal is needed for Microsoft to support interoperability. All they need to do is stop actively working against interoperability.

Publishing their file formats and protocols would be a good start. In other words, do what the EU courts have already ordered them to do.

Microsoft is willing to sell interoperability under terms that leave the 'partner' subject to Microsoft's whim. Experience has shown that any company that earns Microsoft's attention has two choices: they can fight and be pounded into oblivion, or they can 'partner' with Microsoft. In the latter case, the partner gets some payment when Microsoft walks off with their former customers.

Novell screwed up. Their new CEO went for the fast buck. To be fair, Novell will get paid. In the short term, Microsoft will pump money into Novell, and Novell management will get nice bonuses. But after two or three years, Microsoft will pull the plug and Novell will tank.

Microsoft tried this with Java. They got lots of press for signing a deal with Sun to support interoperability. Then, after people's attention had wandered, they quitely introduced non-portable features into the Microsoft JVM. Sure, they claimed that those features were for better applications, but it was obvious that the intent was to make sure that Java applications written for Windows would not be portable to any other OS. Sun sued, and the courts agreed that Microsoft had violated the terms of the contract regarding interoperability.

Microsoft lost that round. The MS JVM was withdrawn, and Sun was paid a large sum. And round two started with C#, designed to replace Java without the risk of allowing customers to escape the Windows lock-in.

The .NET framework has technical merit. But the reason it exists is to displace Java with something that looks portable without any danger of allowing customers to migrate away from Windows in practice. Novell walked into that trap, too.

Portability means that you can switch platforms. Well managed companies endorse portability and win by making sure that customers don't want to switch.

Microsoft has no interest in allowing customers to migrate away from Windows. With more than 90% of the desktop market, they have more to lose than gain. Other companies expect to gain more customers than they lose when migration is easy. In a young market, they're right, because it's not a zero-sum game. Vigorous competition grows the overall market.

That's how it worked with PC hardware. Portability grew the market. Attempts to lock in customers failed, such as IBM's MicroChannel. Portability was more important than technical merit.

The PC showed that interoperability worked for hardware, that you could buy from multiple vendors. The Internet showed that interoperability worked for software, too. Use standard protocols and formats, and you can choose from competing software.

Microsoft doesn't like competition. They work to suppress it, and do so quite well. On the technical front, they've been successful in embracing and extending standards, limiting and controlling interoperability to their terms. On the business front, they've used their size to smash potential competitors; see several antitrust trials for details.

But the GPL is the first threat that isn't vulnerable to those older methods of suppression. They can't remove sales revenue from software that is given away, not sold. They could remove the support revenue, but only by learning how to deliver good support for other people's software, which they show no signs of doing.

Open Source doesn't threaten Microsoft. They can deal with that, and they in fact endorse the BSD license. It is specifically the GPL that Microsoft has struggled to counter, and the Novell deal is a strike at the GPL. The GPL attacks Microsoft where they are most vulnerable, which is their licenses. Customers are starting to grasp the true cost of license compliance; not the purchase price, but the restrictions, record keeping, and intrusion into operating decisions. A license that treats all parties fairly is a serious threat to the key to Microsoft's business.

Interoperability is the bait in a trap set to capture and disable the GPL. I don't care one way or the other what happens to Novell. What concerns me is the possibility that Microsoft has found a way to attack a business model based on the GPL, a business model that has provided the most serious competition that Microsoft has faced in decades.

It's all about competition. As customers, we win when there's more competition, and we lose when there's less. As the dominant player, Microsoft quite naturally prefers less competition, and their actions should always be viewed in that light. Microsoft is willing to provide interoperability in return for regaining control over license terms.

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