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With Microsoft-Novell partnership, IP takes center stage

Novell and Microsoft were in the spotlight recently, but keen observers might have noticed an IP firm sharing the stage as well. Read more to see how IP will factor into this partnership.

Nestled among the Microsoft and Novell executives at last week's surprise partnership announcement was a representative from a much smaller company, but the significance of it being there was obvious once the news of patent infringement popped out of the mouth of outspoken Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

More on the Microsoft-Novell deal:
Red Hat: We will be here in one year, Novell will not

Terpstra: Don't panic over Novell-Microsoft deal

That company was Palamida, a San Francisco-based company that specializes in evaluating an enterprise's code for IP violations and infringements. As open source continues its relentless creep into the core operations of today's data centers, companies will rely more and more on the source code evaluations of companies like Palamida and its main competitor in Waltham, Mass., Black Duck Inc., to make sure their IP is legit.

The representative from Palamida was its CEO, Mark Tolliver, and in this exclusive interview with, Tolliver addressed why IT managers should take Microsoft at its word when it says businesses implementing SUSE Linux should not fret that the biggest opponent to open source software that ever existed now says they're safe from prosecution. Can you explain what your company will now do in regards to this new partnership?

Tolliver: The announcement was significant because I think it raises the attention level in the software world regarding this question of being an informed consumer of software matters. We are in what we call mixed code world of open source and commercial software. And there you have [Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, the ultimate representative of commercial software saying that this partnership is a reality. The net of this is that they are going to do things with SUSE Linux from technical standpoint, where virtualization is a sharp point of that spear, but in my opinion it's equal in importance and interest to the intellectual property side of things. As most of us know, there are a lot of new things to think about from IP to think about in open source world at large. Just because something is free it is not without responsibility; it comes with some terms and conditions. What [Novell and Ms] did [last week] was raise the awareness of that. In way, IP is as important a piece of interoperability as are the technical things like virtualization.

You say the partnership raises IP awareness; at what level is that awareness today among IT mangers?

Tolliver: Most IT managers have awareness of this IP issue. One year ago I would have said it was probably 50%, and two years ago most people were probably not really thinking about this issue at all. But there is a rapidly growing awareness of this notion of what software to use, what rights are there to use it and so forth. This partnership puts a point on it, because when it comes to the Linux operating system itself, Microsoft just put [a] check in the SUSE Linux column that no other Linux distro has. That check says, 'this distro now includes a covenant from Microsoft regarding patents.'

What factors have contributed to this rise in awareness among IT managers?

Tolliver: Everybody in IT today is more or less using some element of open source software; that's just a reality. I can recall sitting down with a customer from a large bank a few years ago, and the point of the discussion was that they were not about to use any open source, they were not about to use Linux. I just don't remember anyone over the past two years making that kind of a statement anymore.

The reality of the world today is that we use both closed and open source applications. And that goes from the granular level where people build applications all the way to companies like JBoss and MySQL. But with that there are a whole new set of terms and conditions in software licenses that they need to get a handle on.

With this partnership, what will IT managers/enterprises need to be aware of that might not have existed before?

Tolliver: The broad answer would be to ask three questions. The first is what software have you decided to use. That sounds easy, but in fact software today is flying in from many angles, and the decision could be made by any individual on up the chain. Second, what rights do we have to use that software, and what came attached to that software? Third, where are we going to be using it? Is it going to be a customer facing application? Because that can influence a user's thinking as well.

Now in response to yesterday's announcement, the question is 'what Linux should I use?' I think there are now additional decision making criteria that Microsoft has put on table, which is if one uses this flavor, SUSE, and if you had any concerns about Microsoft sooner or later taking action because of patent infringement, you can take that concern away if you use the SUSE distro.

We should trust Microsoft that there will be no legal action taken against patent infringement?

Tolliver: We should is how I understood it. There are brighter IP lawyers than me, but that's certainly the way I heard it. The net effect is when people ask what distro should they use use, and they run down their list of criteria, there will be a new row so to speak, which is that a distro comes with assurances form Microsoft that it will not bother us over patents.

Over the past year Microsoft has made it a point to try and pressure open source companies and warning customers that they could be vulnerable to patent infringement -- am I to understand this behavior will cease?

Tolliver: It will cease, vis a vis Novell and their distribution of Linux. What they did, I think, was significant as far as the Linux OS is concerned. But what they obviously didn't do is address the huge and rapid growing world of OSS at large. That is still out there growing like crazy. So what they did, and I think this is as good a starting point as any, is go with a very visible OS product.

What do you think will happen? What are your thoughts on the Microsoft-Novell deal? Email us and let us know!

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