Red Hat reacts to the 'Unthinkable' Microsoft-Novell pact

Red Hat puts a positive spin on Novell-Microsoft deal, which threatens its position as the leading Linux supplier

Following on the heels of its "Unfakeable Linux" rebuttal to last week's incursion by Oracle into its core Linux support business, Red Hat has called the new alliance between rivals Microsoft and Novell "unthinkable" -- but still spun it as a victory for all Linux vendors.

"The best technology has been acknowledged," the company said in a statement posted on Red Hat's Web site overnight. "It means Linux has won."

A long-time foe of open source, Microsoft announced that it would work with No. 2 Linux distributor Novell to make Windows interoperate with Suse Linux in the data center in areas such as virtualization and Web services. Microsoft will also help market Suse to its customers.

While both Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian said the two companies will continue to compete, they will aid each other with support to the increasing number of companies running mixed Windows-Linux environments.

The tie-up is widely perceived as the second blow to Red Hat in two weeks. Oracle said last week that it would clone Red Hat's market-leading version of Linux in order to offer discounted support to enterprise customers.

In its statement, Red Hat decried Microsoft and Novell's technical alliance. "Openly defined standards create interoperability everyone can implement. That's the real solution. It doesn't require a deal between two companies."

Red Hat also criticized Microsoft and Novell's patent cross-licensing deal. Microsoft vowed not to sue non-commercial Linux developers nor Suse Linux users for any possible patent violations, but declined to rule out suing other Linux companies or users.

In its statement, Red Hat also called that threat a looming "innovation tax." It said its Open Source Assurance program would allow customers to continue using Red Hat and JBoss software in case of a legal challenge and indemnify them against intellectual property infringement claims.

Red Hat continued to minimize the fallout from Oracle's move. In an interview yesterday before the Microsoft-Novell announcement, Red Hat's head of support said the company hasn't seen any of its 200,000-plus customers defect to Oracle yet.

"I've asked my support engineers to give me feedback. Honestly, it's been business as usual," said Iain Gray, Red Hat's senior director of global support. Most of Red Hat's customers are signed up for one- or three-year support contracts.

Jeremy Garcia, a Linux systems administrator who also runs the LinuxQuestions.org Web site, said that Oracle's claim to provide support at half the price of Red Hat is less attractive than it first seems. "No enterprise customers pay anywhere near the published retail price for RHEL," Garcia said. "Having dealt with Red Hat on behalf of many companies, depending on quantity the discounts can be significant."

Gray said that Red Hat customers who run Oracle databases and/or applications and might be considered likely switchers to Oracle support, are not a huge percentage of its overall base.

"In all of the discussions I have with customers around their eco-systems, I don't see any bias towards Oracle," he said, pointing out that Red Hat has enough customers running the MySQL and PostGreSQL open-source databases that it began supporting them in September.

Gray said that despite the coming competition, Red Hat's support team continues to work closely with Oracle. "Our technical account manager has been having his weekly and daily calls with Oracle's engineering and support teams," he said.

But Gray asserted that customers switching to Oracle support will lose benefits such as direct contact with Red Hat's engineers and the ability to directly influence Red Hat's roadmap. "Support doesn't just start when a customer hits a bug, it runs throughout our relationship," he said.

Asked if Red Hat would try to get back at Oracle by offering discount support for Oracle's software, Gray laughed. "As the guy in charge of Red Hat support, I've got no plans," he said.

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