Microsoft and Novell have forged a broad ranging partnership around the latter's SuSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) distribution that includes a patent pledge, interoperability and distribution partnership.
Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer said at a joint press conference that the partnership is "bridging a divide" for Linux.
"It comes to recognising that there is a mixed environment," said Ballmer, referring to the fact that most organisations run multiple systems next to each other.
"As of today, Novell is the only Linux vendor that is tackling the interoperability, patent and other issues that are really important to customers."
Novell chief executive Ron Hovespian added that the agreement will help Linux and Windows to continue to grow their markets.
"This will allow the customer to move through their development and deployment cycles faster," he said.
The agreement effectively provides a Microsoft endorsement to Novell's Linux distribution.
As part of a patent cross licensing agreement, Microsoft will indemnify companies that purchase a licence for Novell's SLES distribution for all its patents.
The pledge also applies to developers, provided that their code is used in the SLES distribution or that they contribute to the OpenSus e.org project.
Microsoft will make a one-time upfront payment to Novell for the cross licensing deal. Novell will pay a fee for each SuSE support contract that it sells.
Ballmer claimed that Microsoft is unable to provide a broader patent pledge that would cover all Linux distributions because the company is unable to live with the conditions of the GNU General Public Licence.
He also indicated that Microsoft chose to partner with Novell because of the company's large patent portfolio.
The agreement gives Novell a big advantage over Red Hat, which indemnifies its customers against patent claims. Red Hat is the world's largest vendor of Linux support services.
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