No doubt you’ve heard about the ground-breaking Microsoft/Novell deal: On November 2, 2006, the two companies announced their plan to collaborate on Windows and Linux interoperability and support. Specifically, their agreement focuses on four areas: virtualization, Web services for managing physical and virtual servers, directory and identity interoperability, and document format compatibility. (For the official Microsoft announcement, go to http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2006/nov06/11-02MSNovellPR.mspx.)<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

            This week, Microsoft and Novell outlined more details for their plan to collaborate in these four areas. (For this official announcement, go to http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2007/feb07/02-12RoadmapPR.mspx.) David Bermingham, Director of Product Management for SteelEye Technology, shared his opinions with our editors regarding the companies’ latest announcement. (SteelEye Technology provides IT solutions for business continuity and disaster recovery across Windows and Linux physical and virtual servers.)

            Microsoft and Novell’s virtualization agreement entails an offering for Windows Server and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) to consolidate server workloads in heterogeneous data centers. Customers will be able to host SLES 10 as a virtualized guest on an upcoming Microsoft Virtual Server 2005 Release 2 (R2) service pack and as an enlightened guest on Windows Longhorn Server. In addition, customers will be able to use Linux’s embedded Xen virtualization technology to host Longhorn Server as a paravirtualized guest on SLES 10. David Bermingham notes that this coupling is “obviously to take on the market leader in this space—VMware.” He remarks that “it will be interesting to see how Windows licensing plays into this puzzle once all of the parts are ready,” and he wonders, “Are they going to try to squeeze out VMware by not offering as attractive server license pricing for people running VMware ESX Server?”

In the Web services management area, Novell is working with open-source developers to provide an open-source implementation of the WS-Management specification that Microsoft helped develop. David calls this part of the plan “a step in the right direction for Microsoft. In the past, Microsoft chose to offer limited options for managing anything other than Windows OSs. Now … they are going to have to take their blinders off and realize that people actually use software other than Microsoft in the data center.”

Microsoft and Novell are also working on improving directory and identity interoperability between Active Directory (AD) and Novell eDirectory. However, all that Microsoft promises right now is “a series of interoperability demonstrations” and “a more detailed road map for this collaborative effort,” both to come. David wasn’t impressed with this portion of the recent announcement, mainly because of its vagueness. He asserts, “This is an important task that must be done right to ensure that whatever LDAP solution you choose, you will be supported by both Microsoft and Linux. If support is better between Microsoft and SUSE directory services, then this will be a great selling feature for SUSE over Red Hat.”

Finally, Microsoft and Novell are working to provide seamless interoperability between office productivity applications. The companies are cooperating to create an open-source bidirectional translator for documents between the OpenDocument Format (ODF), which OpenOffice.org supports, and Open XML, which is Microsoft Office’s default file format. Microsoft recently released the Open XML/ODF Translator for Microsoft Word 2007, Word 2003, and Word XP, and Novell will soon release an Open XML/ODF Translator for the Novell edition of OpenOffice.org. Both companies are working to extend this interoperability to spreadsheets and presentations. David notes that “in order for Linux to have a chance to take hold on the desktop, this \[interoperability\] will have to be as seamless as sharing documents between different versions of Microsoft Office. It seems as if in the past it was just OpenOffice trying to coexist with Microsoft Office. Now Microsoft will be a more active participant and hopefully this cooperation will help achieve transparent interoperability between both Office platforms.”

Many people are still skeptical of the Microsoft/Novell partnership, even after the latest announcement—which actually contained some technical news (i.e., the release of the document translators). Obviously Microsoft is aligning with Novell for its own reasons—after all, the company can more easily influence customers in mixed environments if it serves them rather than cuts them off. But rather than focus on either company’s possible ulterior motives, customers will profit most if they concentrate on taking advantage of the technical benefits the alliance provides.