Opinion: Novell dances with the devil

Novell took to the floor with two left feet

First it was the SCO Group, now it's Microsoft raiding open source code to fill the kitty.

As the software giant's CEO boldly declared last week the Linux operating system infringes on Microsoft's intellectual property (IP) and shareholders expect "an appropriate economic return." In simple terms, it means pay up!

Or, as Ballmer said flexing plenty of muscle last week, Linux is "an undisclosed balance sheet liability".

For Linux users it's almost sacrilegious, is there anything Microsoft won't license?

For me, the only real surprise is that Ballmer waited weeks, not days, to let the cat out of the bag.

The media headlines said it all: "Novell fumes at Ballmer's Balls".

It was November 2 when Novell and Microsoft inked their deal to boost the interoperability of their competing products.

Microsoft will pay Novell $US440 million for coupons entitling users to a full year of maintenance and support on SUSE Linux.

But here's the corker - Novell pays Microsoft $40 million to ensure SUSE Linux users avoid patent violations.

Of course, this wasn't Novell's intention when it inked the deal.

Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian unwittingly fell prey to the Microsoft machine. For Novell it was a joint sales agreement. For Microsoft it was so much more.

As Hovsepian says in his own words the deal was signed to improve interoperability but Microsoft wanted to include a patent cooperation agreement as well. "....the patent agreement was added as an afterthought," Hovsepian explained.

Ballmer must have been rubbing his hands with glee as Novell signed on the dotted line. Poor old Hovsepian is furious!

The after-thought explanation reminds me of an old journalist technique that involves downplaying the real agenda.

The journalist asks all the formal questions during the interview. As it comes to a close, the journalist closes the notebook, puts down the pen (disarmed) and then throws in the corker before walking away. It is a throw-away line and the interviewee thinks the real questions are over.

In most cases the interviewee's response is a relaxed, and more importantly, a revealing one. Bang! There's your story.

So what's the real story here, has Novell made an admission of patent violations?

Ballmer is adamant that someone - either Linux vendors or users - will eventually have to pay up.

In layman term's its called Dancing with the Devil. And Novell took to the floor with two left feet.

What do you think? E-mails to sandra_rossi@idg.com.au

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