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Novell's tiny regret in Microsoft deal

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If Novell's chief executive has any regrets about slipping between the sheets with Microsoft, it's around Microsoft's push for IP protection.

Ron Hovsepian's alliance with Microsoft, announced last November, saw Microsoft agree to sell SuSE Enterprise Linux (SLES) coupons, while the companies worked on interoperability between SLES and Windows on virtualization, directories and file formats between Office and Open Office. Coupons apply specifically to SLES running as a virtual guest in a host Windows operating system or vice versa.

However, it was Novell's tacit recognition of the existence of intellectual property in Linux - by accepting Microsoft's promise not to prosecute developers whose open source code is used by Novell - that really rankled the community.

According to Hovsepian in eWeek, the IP covenant was a Microsoft - not a Novell - idea, and the companies' original proposal did not include a covenant not to sue. "That was one of the business things [Microsoft] wanted out of it," Hovsepian said.

And you can see why. It put Microsoft's chief executive Steve Ballmer back on form in the weeks following the deal, claiming Linux infringes Microsoft IP and that Microsoft wanted to "get the appropriate economic return for our shareholders from our innovation." Novell agreed to pay Microsoft $40m in protection.

Which brings us onto Hovsepian's only genuine - public at least - regret: his delay in responding to a storm of community criticism through an open letter. Hovsepian believes a timelier letter would have cleared up concerns.

That letter said Novell's agreement with Microsoft was "in no way an acknowledgment that Linux infringes upon any Microsoft intellectual property." Rather than clarify, though, Hovsepian's letter left people baffled over why Novell signed the covenant, given both companies held diametrically opposed views.®

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