Microsoft: No IP Talks with Red Hat

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 07-16-2007

Microsoft and Red Hat are no closer to a deal involving intellectual property cooperation, Microsoft has confirmed.

"Red Hat and Microsoft have previously had conversations about interoperability, but none of our recent conversations have included discussions about intellectual property cooperation," Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft's vice president of intellectual property and licensing, told eWEEK.

This effectively puts to rest—for now—the speculation that the rival operating system vendors might actually be talking about a deal that includes some kind of intellectual property provision and/or patent covenant.

Enterprise customers, however, have a great deal of interest in seeing the two companies work together because of their investments in both sets of technologies. Bob Muglia, Microsoft's senior vice president for server and tools, admitted that interoperability and support for major Linux distributions have come up repeatedly at the company's Interoperability Executive Customer Council.

"Our message [from customers] was really very simple: 'Go and talk to Red Hat because we very much would like to [work with both systems],'" he said.

Both companies say they hear their customers, but remain camped on opposite sides of the argument.

Paul Cormier, Red Hat's executive vice president of engineering, told eWEEK that the company is still willing to work with the Redmond, Wash., software maker on the interoperability front, but that it wants to limit those talks to pure interoperability between Windows and Red Hat Linux, with the goal of solving real customer problems.

Click here to read more about Red Hat's olive branch to Microsoft on interoperability.

But Microsoft's official position is that interoperability and intellectual property are not completely separate issues and have to be considered together.

Gutierrez emphasized that Microsoft remains "open to exploring a deeper collaboration with Red Hat that includes intellectual property cooperation for the benefit of our mutual customers."

But while Microsoft is committed to building bridges with the open-source community, "collaboration on interoperability and intellectual property are important foundations for those bridges," Gutierrez said.

Read more here about why Microsoft sees no conflict between its stance on patent violations and its attempts to build bridges with the open-source community.

That approach will not work for Red Hat; Cormier's position has been, "I want to talk to the folks at Microsoft about our two operating systems and how we can work together to solve real customer problems without attaching any unrelated strings, such as intellectual property."

Cormier also ruled out any possibility of Red Hat doing a deal with Microsoft like the controversial patent agreement and covenant not to sue that Microsoft penned with Novell last year, especially after viewing the limited information that is publicly available on that deal.

That said, many observers expect the stand-off to end soon. Linux-Watch Editor Steven Vaughan-Nichols, for one, predicts that, by this time next year, "there will not be any major Linux company or distribution, except for Debian, that won't have some kind of Microsoft partnership in place. If Red Hat makes a deal—and I'm sure they will—then I can't see any of the remaining major Linux distributors holding out."

Read more here why a Microsoft-Red Hat deal may be inevitable.

Red Hat CEO Matt Szulik admitted recently that the Linux vendor had talked to Microsoft about a patent deal in 2006, but those talks broke down and Microsoft went on to pen a similar deal with Novell.

Is a Linux civil war brewing? Find out here.

All rhetoric aside, Red Hat and Microsoft are engaged on interoperability to some extent, since the Linux vendor is a member of the Interoperability Vendor Alliance.

When Red Hat joined the alliance, Shaun Connolly, vice president of product management for JBoss, a division of Red Hat, said in a press release that "enterprise customers count on Red Hat to run their businesses, and they expect nothing less than the ability to leverage Red Hat solutions with their existing technology investments. Through the alliance, we will work with industry vendors to ensure that the Red Hat customer experience is transparent and seamless in spite of heterogeneous environments."

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