China isn't particularly well-known for paying for software--heck, it's the number one consumer of pirated software worldwide--but Microsoft and Novell are trying to change that. The companies announced an allegiance Sunday in which they will attempt to convert business users of free Linux versions in China and other markets to paid copies of Novell SUSE Linux Enterprise.

The big question here, of course, is why Microsoft would be promoting Linux at all. The company says it is simply being pragmatic. It recognizes that corporate customers typically run its products in heterogeneous environments, often with a mix of Linux- and Windows-based solutions. Getting the Chinese, in particular, to move to paid software is a challenge, but one that makes sense for the entire industry. And once they're used to using paid software, Windows will be all the more attractive because of its enhanced capabilities compared to Linux.

"We are pleased to offer this option to meet customer needs in one of the leading global markets," says Microsoft China chairman Ya-Qin Zang. "We are very pleased with the initial response in the Chinese market to our joint offerings for IP peace of mind and technology interoperability in such areas as virtualization and high-performance computing."

Specifically, Microsoft and Novell are addressing these areas with combinations of software from each company. For interoperability, the companies are pushing SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and Microsoft Windows Compute Cluster Server running in a dual-boot configuration. For virtualization, they've got Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 with Xen technology.

Novell and Microsoft first began working together in 2006 when the companies announced that they were building technological bridges between Novell's Linux-based systems and Microsoft's Windows-based systems. Since then, paid Linux usage has risen 38.6 percent in China. Of course, 38.6 percent of next to nothing is still a pretty low number: My guess is that Microsoft and Novell have a tough road ahead of them if they expect to really change the way software is acquired in China.