Red Hat to MS willing to work on interoperability

Even though patent talks between Microsoft and Red Hat broke down last year before Microsoft went on to sign a technical collaboration and patent indemnity deal with Novell, Red Hat is still willing to work with the Redmond software maker on the interoperability front.

But the Linux vendor wants to limit those talks to pure interoperability between Windows and Red Hat Linux, with the goal of solving real customer problems, Paul Cormier, Red Hat's executive vice president of engineering, told eWEEK.

"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," he said.

While Cormier declined to comment on why its earlier talks with Microsoft fell through, he ruled out any possibility of Red Hat doing a deal with Microsoft like the controversial patent agreement and covenant not to sue that Redmond penned with Novell last year, especially after viewing the limited information that is publicly available on that deal.

But Microsoft officials said their position is that the issues of interoperability and intellectual property are not completely separate, and have to be considered together, meaning there is a de facto standoff between it and Red Hat on this issue.

While Bob Muglia, Microsoft's senior vice president for server and tools, told eWEEK recently that the company would be happy to work with Red Hat and others on interoperability, he noted that it still has to think about intellectual property, the licensing of that, and the issues around it, which are not totally separate issues.

"So, in terms of helping to drive conversations with those guys, we're open to talking to them about interoperability; we're always open to talking about this," Muglia said.

"But it is necessary to have a conversation about intellectual property when it comes to open source, and you can't just sit back and talk about interoperability for interoperability's sake without fully solving the customer issue. Unless you actually address the issues around IP, you haven't fully solved the customer's interoperability problem," Muglia said.

Cormier disagrees with that assessment, saying that there is a long history in the industry where open standards, open interfaces and vendors willing to put customers first have been able to readily solve any interoperability challenge. "We are prepared to do our part," he said.

For Muglia and Microsoft, it is not that simple. While it is one thing to talk about how open-source technologies could interoperate with Microsoft software, "you have to complete the picture," he said, adding that Microsoft already supports Red Hat software in its current Virtual Server product.

While Muglia acknowledged that interoperability work could take place without tacking on the IP issue, he is reluctant to do so.

"We do know how to do this and there are ways in which we can have interoperability work without the IP conversation," Muglia said. "My main point about IP is that you actually haven't solved the customer's interoperability problem unless you have also solved the licensing issue," he said, pointing out that Red Hat is now also a member of the Interoperability Vendor Alliance.

When Red Hat joined the Alliance, Shaun Connolly, the 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."

Muglia, when asked if the topic of interoperability and support for Linux distributions other than SUSE Linux has come up at its Interoperability Executive Customer Council, said it had, and again pointed the finger directly at Red Hat.

"But our message was really very simple: 'go and talk to Red Hat, because we very much would like to do that,'" he said.

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