The Microsoft Xandros Deal
"Microsoft, Xandros Broad Collaboration Agreement Extends Bridge Between Commercial Open Source and Microsoft Software"
And so it begins again ...
What was Announced
The actual details will presumably be held secret for as long as possible, just like the Novell Microsoft deal. Here are the details from the announcement on Microsoft's press wire:
Over the next five years, Microsoft and Xandros will focus on five primary efforts:
- Systems management interoperability: Xandros and Microsoft believe advances in system management technology can significantly reduce the cost of operating large computer networks running diverse platforms. Xandros will partner with Microsoft to deliver value-added heterogeneous management capabilities that will work with the next generation management capabilities that will work with the generation of Microsoft System Center and Xandros Systems Management products, which provide end-to-end service management. Xandros will also join Microsoft and other management vendors in implementing the WS-Management set of protocols in Xandros BridgeWays cross-platform management products and in various systems management standardization efforts.
- Server interoperability. Xandros will license a broad set of Microsoft server communications protocols. Xandros will develop enhancements to Xandros Server, allowing it to interoperate more smoothly with Windows Server in a network setting.
- Office document compatibility. Xandros and Microsoft share the view that competing office productivity applications should, by design, make it easy for customers to exchange files with one another. To that end, Xandros will join Microsoft and other companies that are building open source translators fostering interoperability between documents stored in Open XML and Open Document Format. Xandros will ship translators in upcoming releases of its Xandros Desktop offering.
- Intellectual property assurance. Through the agreement, Microsoft will make available patent covenants for Xandros customers. These covenants will provide customers with confidence that the Xandros technologies they use and deploy in their environments are compliant with Microsoft's intellectual property. By putting a framework in place to share intellectual property, Xandros and Microsoft can speed the development of interoperable solutions.
- Microsoft sales and marketing support. The companies are committing to a set of sales and marketing efforts to promote the output of their technical efforts. As part of this effort, Microsoft will now endorse Xandros Server and Desktop as a preferred Linux distribution dues to Xandros' efforts to establish rich interoperability and deliver IP assurance to its customers. Also, a specialized team of Microsoft staff will be trained on the value propositions of this collaboration to customers and channel partners. Xandros will also become a member of the Microsoft Interop Vendor Alliance.
Fine. Whatever. I really wish marketing people would remember how to speak English like the rest of us. The hyperbole and bombast just deaden the senses.
What might it mean for Xandros
Xandros is looking for love (possibly in all the wrong places). A quick tour of DistroWatch for the comparative view for Xandros over the past 12, 6, 3, and one month periods shows it falling from 25th to 28th to 31st to 40th respectively. Ubuntu sat in first until the past month when it dropped to second in interest behind PCLinuxOS. The harsh part of the story is that regardless of which period you view, there are a lot of well know, well packaged systems ahead of Xandros including Ubuntu, OpenSuSE, Fedora, Debian, Gentoo, and Mandriva and that's just staying in the top dozen. Even FreeBSD consistently ranks above Xandros on distrowatch.
I appreciate this is "interest" rather than sales as measured for Linux vendors. But I'm looking for brand recognition here. I even had to remind myself who Xandros was when I heard the news. While that simply shows my ignorance, Xandros has been trying to be the "business person's" linux desktop, but Ubuntu and Novell have got to be hammering them pretty hard at this point in history.
Novell signed its deal with Microsoft seven months ago. They've made a lot of noise about how the coupon program has been GREAT for business. (Other views differ.) They weathered the community storm. They have consistently said they don't believe Linux infringes any Microsoft patents, and that the IP related parts of the deal weren't about any current Linux patent infringement. If you buy the public message, then the deal has likely been net positive for Novell, if only for the cash injection. For Xandros this deal is their perceived chance to get some commercial love which they probably would like about now.
Corel is an investor in Xandros along with Linux Global Partners. Corel has had a bizarre history with Microsoft, alternately suing and collaborating with them. It should come as no surprise that a Corel spin-off like Xandros considers a deal with Redmond good business.
Xandros is giving:
- Xandros will implement WS-Management in BridgeWays (presumably in the next five years).
- Xandros is now a server communications protocol licensee.
- Xandros will join the ODF translator community.
Xandros is getting:
- The same deal on IP from Microsoft, i.e. Microsoft is generously promising not to sue Xandros customers. Whatever.
- Lots of co-sales and co-marketing love.
"By putting a framework in place to share intellectual property, ...." There is no "sharing" happening today. A quick search of the USPTO database reveals the number of patents with "assignee name" of Xandros: ZERO. The number of patents with an "assignee name" of Microsoft: 6776. The number of patents with an "assignee name" of Corel (one of Xandros investors): 40. It might be interesting to know what rights Xandros had to Corel patents, and what rights they may have just cross licensed, but that's Corel's problem.
What does it mean for Microsoft
They get a new protocol licensee which I'm sure they'll be pleased to trumpet to the EU.
They get a renewed messaging platform for their continued infatuation with customers and patents instead of customers and solutions. It's a broken platform which shows no leadership, but that apparently won't stop them from pushing it.
They get to continue the messaging shades of grey around Microsoft Office Open XML and ODF. "Xandros and Microsoft share the view that competing office productivity applications should, by design, make it easy for customers to exchange files with one another." Microsoft sees its death in ODF. They will fight like a cornered rat and message appropriately.
"Microsoft will now endorse Xandros Server and Desktop as a preferred Linux distribution dues to Xandros' efforts to establish rich interoperability and deliver IP assurance to its customers." I've confidence the discussions with Novell on this are hysterical in both meanings of the word. It has the potential to be a distracting headache from a reasonable partnership with a first-tier commercial distributor of Linux, to be able to tout an IP message with a third-tier player.
Is there an implication with GPLv3?
Damned if I know. GPLv3 is not truly finalized, and I've confidence better minds, legally trained and hard-wired to the current GPL development process will weigh in here. BUT, I'd be hard pressed to say this deal actually matters. Linux is what it is. The way it's licensed will be decided by the community that invests in it. The GPLv3 will be what it will be. It will be used by the communities that choose to use it. Any conjecture on whether Microsoft signing a deal with a third-tier commercial Linux distributor is going to effect the process seems a bit wild. I've confidence saner heads will prevail. Well ... after an initial snarl or two.
Should anyone care?
I saw Allison Randall on a recent OSBC panel on whether the Novell-Microsoft Deal was "good" for open source. She sat with Sam Ramji (Microsoft), Justin Steinman (Novell), and Jonathon Corbet (LWN.net). Sam and Justin did a mostly fine job of clarifying the agreement, but Allison's point that the deal is irrelevant for open source was more important.
The Novell-Microsoft deal was a deal between two vendors just like any other deal involving co-marketing, technical co-operation, and IP cross licensing. (With Xandros there's apparently no cross license as they have nothing to license.) Novell thinks its best serving its customers. Microsoft thinks its best serving its investors. So too with this Xandros-Microsoft deal.
There is no more patent infringement validation here, despite Microsoft posturing, than the Novell-Microsoft deal. A hundred companies using free and open source software in their offerings to customers could sign patent cross licensing or covenant deals with Microsoft, and it means nothing with respect to the veracity of Microsoft's infringement claims. Patents are tickets to negotiations. They are (sometimes) interesting opportunities for discussions. But they are utterly unproved until they enter a courtroom. Some companies see a Microsoft deal as a strategic leg up in their business. It means nothing with respect to possible claimed infringement, and even less to other mainstream players like IBM, and Red Hat. It's all just business.
Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
- Macbeth, Act V, Scene V
[Disclaimer: Microsoft is a client of mine.]