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A look at Linux interoperability to date: Microsoft and Novell leading the pack

More than any other interoperability partnership for Windows and Linux, Novell and Microsoft's agreement provides the most value through virtualization, server management, and development. The Moonlight development project stands out as a good example of what can be done with interoperability when the two companies collaborate.

More than any other interoperability partnership for Windows and Linux, the one providing the most value is the relationship between Novell and Microsoft. Since the controversial agreement that Novell and Microsoft signed in 2006, both companies have worked tirelessly together in an effort to ensure increased collaboration and interoperability. While Many Linux aficionados feel that Novell sold out in many ways by striking this partnership with Microsoft – the bottom line is that this relationship has increased Linux interoperability.

In terms of real product – how has this relationship contributed to interoperability and how much is just noise? What specific innovations has the partnership created and how does this relationship help you, the customer? These are some of the topics we'll explore here. Some of the elements that Microsoft and Novell have worked on since their agreement in 2006 include: cross-platform virtualization solutions, single console systems management and synchronization of Novell and Microsoft directory services.

Much of this work has been developed in the Microsoft and Novell Interoperability Lab in Cambridge, Mass., which was launched in November 2006. This relationship was actually the byproduct of the vendors' five-year partnership to assist each other with Linux and Windows interoperability. Here I will discuss virtualization, systems management and some important developmental efforts (Moonlight).

Virtualization interoperability between Novell SUSE and Microsoft Windows

The cross-platform virtualization capabilities will be enormous for the industry and will unquestionably help users of these systems.


Novell is currently developing a cross-platform virtualization solution that allows Windows Server 2008 to be a virtualized guest on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, and for SUSE Linux Enterprise Server to be a virtualized guest on Windows Server 2008. Today, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 SP2 is actually the only Xen-based virtualization solution with full support from Microsoft for Windows guests and live migration of those guests across physical machines. In Sept of 2008, Microsoft announced a solution that includes SUSE Linux Enterprise Server running as an optimized guest on Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V. Hyper-V, a hypervisor-based technology, is a key feature of Windows Server 2008. Beta Linux integration components are now actually available for SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 SP2 and SP1 x86 and x64 editions.

These integration components enable Xen-enabled Linux to take advantage of the VSP/VSC architecture and provide improved performance. This virtualization solution is actually the first to include technology developed by both companies at their joint Interoperability Lab. Novell is also a charter member of Microsoft's Server Virtualization Validation Program, and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server is a validated operating system in the program.

Server management packs and development projects
Other areas of collaboration include, the new SUSE Linux Enterprise Server management pack for Microsoft. The management pack will allow for cross-platform management of both Windows and Linux environments (physical and virtual) from one consolidated tool. It essentially enables the assessment and management of Windows and Linux servers from one unified console, eliminating the cost of needed several management stations. This is a very important component of systems management because without this type of product, interoperability becomes more difficult to implement.

Regarding Moonlight, Microsoft and Novell announced in November of 2008 that they were nearly ready with a beta version of Moonlight -- a Firefox add-on that allows Silverlight content to play on Linux PCs. The release supports Microsoft Media pack for playing both video and audio files. These are the same video and audio decoders that Silverlight uses in version 2.0. Silverlight is a cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in developed for delivering next generation .NET-based media experiences and interactive applications (RIAs) for the Web. It delivers a programming model that supports AJAX, Microsoft Visual Basic .NET, C#, Python, and Ruby and integrates with existing Web applications. Silverlight media capabilities include fast delivery of high-quality audio and video to all major browsers, including Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer.

How did Microsoft and Novell collaborate on this? The collaboration was a formal engineering/development program. Novell brought the the .NET-based Silverlight framework to Moonlight and Microsoft provided a version of the necessary codecs for Linux. The goals of the project itself include running Silverlight applications on Linux, providing a Linux SDK for building out Silverlight applications and reusing the Silverlight engine to build desktop applications.

While some of these initiatives have taken a bit longer than some would have wanted, and some are still on-going, there is no question that the partnership has been successful. The cross-platform virtualization capabilities will be enormous for the industry and will unquestionably help users of these systems. The SUSE Linux Enterprise Server management pack for Microsoft will help manage the complexities of a heterogeneous environment, which is a key component of interoperability. Finally, development products such as Moonlight show that Microsoft and Novell really can work together on development efforts that bring more functionality to Linux and open systems. We encourage the community to continue to supports efforts between these two companies, while continuing the overall efforts toward interoperability.

It should be noted that at the time this article went to press Red Hat and Microsoft signed their own agreement. This agreement was aimed at improving interoperability between the two companies' virtualization products. It involves, each respective company joining each other's certification and validation programs, while also providing technical support for mutual customers. What's interesting about this agreement, is that unlike the Novell-Microsoft agreement discussed in the article, which put Novell at odds with some open source folks because of patent deals, this agreement excludes any mention of patents. Looks like both of the companies learned lessons from that deal, making this a real win-win for both organizations.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ken Milberg is a systems consultant with two decades of experience working with Unix and Linux systems. He is a Ask the Experts advisor and columnist.

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