In November 2006 Novell and Microsoft singed and announced a collaboration agreement between them, which took the Linux world by surprise. Novell is the owner and producer of SUSE Linux which it acquired in 2003.
Novell is also the owner of the UNIX and UnixWare copyrights, which was recently confirmed by a US court, which in itself is a welcome victory, because of SCO’s threat to the Linux community based upon allegations of copyright infringement of UNIX. SCO claimed that Linux is an unauthorized derivative of UNIX and sued IBM and Novell over copyright claims. And then there were speculations, that Microsoft helped SCO in its effort against Linux. But since SCO doesn’t own UNIX after all, the threat is now nothing more than hot air. Perhaps, Microsoft realized that SCO is going to lose and it was them, which suddenly needed protection from Novell, hence the collaboration agreement with Novell. But that deal includes also a patent cooperation agreement, where Novell and Microsoft each promised not to sue the other’s customers for patent infringement.
But ever since that deal, Microsoft hasn’t stopped claiming that Linux violates their own patents, something Novell vehemently denies. Like as if Microsoft is directly spreading the uncertainty from now on, instead of SCO as a proxy. Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer claimed that they made the deal with Novell, because Linux uses their intellectual property. And Novell’s CEO Ron Hovsepian responded that the agreement with Microsoft in no way acknowledges that Linux infringes upon any Microsoft intellectual property. And so forth…
In this new reality, which left all other Linux vendors high and dry - for them the threats from Microsoft are real. They were not included in the patent protection deal cut with Microsoft, leaving them vulnerable. Never mind the fact that Microsoft hasn’t proved any patent violation in court and many simply dismissed their claims. But the temporary damage of such threats against users and vendors of the Linux operating system alike, are real. Should Microsoft decide to sue for example Red Hat or its customers, it’s questionable if Red Hat could overcome the difficulties of such an attack, even as the number one Linux vendor.
At about the same time of the friendship announcement between Novell and Microsoft, Oracle announced its Unbreakable Linux, a distribution build from Red Hat source code. Unbreakable Linux is actually a support program, but Oracle effectively produces and distributes a RHEL clone, the very same way StartCom does with StartCom Enterprise Linux.
This move was not less surprising to the Linux folks and left many scratching their heads (including me). Oracle supported their databases and other products for a long time on Red Hat Linux operating systems. It seemed that there was a longstanding partnership between this two companies and somehow it didn’t made sense, that Oracle wanted to compete with Red Hat - by using the source code distributed by Red Hat of all things. The support fees Oracle charges* for its Linux program are touted to be even cheaper than the ones from Red Hat, something which sounds even more ridiculous, considering the costs of the Oracle databases which run on top of the operating system. More than that, Oracle bothered to build their clone of Red Hat by themselves and some reported their early versions riddled with bugs, even so they could have grabbed one of the existing and working clones.
Now with the SCO vs. Novell case coming to a close and with the continued threats spewed by Microsoft about patent violations against the Linux community after the Novell deal, I’m left wondering if it can be, that Red Hat and its partners got wind of the emerging deal between Novell and Microsoft, which after all took month to accomplish. Can it be, that Oracle scrambled to Red Hat’s help, by producing effectively the same product? Because if Microsoft would sue Red Hat, they would be suing also Oracle which distributes the very same product!? Or at least Oracle would have good reasons to defend Red Hat. Was this a warning sign to Microsoft? At least it would explain, why the database giant started its own RHEL clone…
Update 1: This opinion story seems to give some support to the Oracle connection with the confirmation of the legal threat from Microsoft after the SCO case.
Update 2: Oracle’s Larry Ellison, on his first visit to Israel last weekend, is flexing his muscles even more by statements like “Open source is not something to be feared” and “When Oracle will become the biggest software company depends on how fast Oracle grows, and how fast Microsoft shrinks”.
* Unbreakable Linux support as low as $99 per system per year compared to $10,206 per database per year.