Microsoft renews controversial SUSE Linux deal for five years

SUSE Linux Enterprise Server

Microsoft and Attachmate have announced a five-year extension to an agreement that has the Redmond software giant reselling SUSE Linux certificates to business customers—along with a promise not to sue those customers if Microsoft ever decided to take Linux to court. The deal is an extension of a controversial deal Microsoft made with Novell back in 2006—that deal was worth about $240 million; the value of the new deal is open ended, to be doled out in $100 million increments.

“Our collaboration with SUSE not only helps customers to achieve success today, but also seeks to provide them with a solid foundation for tomorrow,” said Microsoft’s Open Solutions Group general manager Sandy Gupta, in a statement. “Through our continued engagement on the technical side, an outstanding support offering from SUSE and our ability to provide mutual IP assurance, we feel confident that we will be able to deliver core value to those running mixed-source IT environments well into the future—and into the cloud.”

Microsoft’s original deal with Novell raised alarms in the Linux community. On the face of it, the deal was essentially a pledge from Microsoft that it would work the ensure its WIndows-based solutions had a high degree of interoperability for SUSE Linux, effectively blessing the SUSE Linux distribution for use in enterprises and organizations with mixed Windows/Linux infrastructures. However, for years, Microsoft has been warning that it believes Linux violates a large number of its patents, and has been threatening to take on Linux vendors. The SUSE Linux deal gave enterprise customers using the system immunity, implying that customers who didn’t have a patent covenant agreement with Microsoft would be vulnerable.

However, although Microsoft is going after the Linux-based Android mobile operating system—demanding (and receiving!) per-unit payments from some Android device manufacturers, Microsoft has yet to go after Linux distributions like Ubuntu or Red Hat…implying, five years after it struck the deal with SUSE, the broader Linux ecosystem might not have much to fear from Microsoft.

The renewal of the deal is good news for Attachmate: Attachmate completed its acquisition of Novell earlier this year, but the SUSE interoperability and patent deal had accounted for much of Novell’s SUSE Linux revenue. As part of the Attachmate acquisition, Novell sold almost 900 patents to a consortium headed up by Microsoft.

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