Microsoft hot topic at Novell gathering

Some at BrainShare say the partnership is terrible, but the companies lay out the positive aspects
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Novell officials used Monday's kickoff of the annual BrainShare conference to explain how the Provo company's new partnership with former rival Microsoft will lift the company to new heights in developing consumer-friendly computer software.

But an opponent of the relationship accused Novell of betraying the rest of the open-source community by aligning itself with Microsoft. "What Novell has done is 'Mutiny on the Bounty,' '' software developer Bruce Perens said during a news conference across the street from Novell's weeklong conference at the Salt Palace Convention Center.

Only a handful of reporters attended Perens' briefing, whereas nearly 6,000 people from 83 countries packed a Salt Palace ballroom to hear Novell President Ron Hovsepian and other executives describe the company's newest technological offerings. Much of that technology is designed to allow end-line computer users to bridge the gap between Microsoft's Windows programs and Novell's Linux software.

"This was all about [responding to] customers to make their lives easier," Hovsepian said.

That message also echoed through the next presentation, when Novell chief technology officer Jeffrey Jaffe shared the stage with Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer. That pairing, Novell officials acknowledged later, would have been unthinkable just a few years back. But on Monday, Jaffe and Mundie matter-of-factly discussed the mutual benefits of the partnership.

"Increased opportunities to squeeze costs out are pushing us to do this," said Mundie. "This arrangement is moving in the right direction."

Novell will continue to push Linux as the best operating system, while Microsoft will tout Windows, Jaffe concurred. Although the companies will "agree to disagree" about which system is best, he added, they will not let that difference get in the way of ensuring that customers who have access to both systems can use both systems - quickly and efficiently.

To that end, Novell unveiled nearly a dozen developments designed to improve performance from desktops to data warehouses, to improve security and identity measures, to upgrade management services and to simplify overall operations.

Perens, the critic, said he would not oppose this union if it were simply a technological partnership. But in his view, Microsoft is using it to destroy competition, compelling Novell to abandon its former allies - small- and intermediate-level software developers in the open-source community - in return for protection from Microsoft attacks.

What Novell did is not illegal but it is a matter of bad faith, Perens contended. The result could doom Novell to becoming a Microsoft subsidiary, he said, because Novell does not write its own software but gets it instead from those small independents.

Hovsepian scoffed at that scenario. "Them [Microsoft] buying us? I think that's deep in the conspiracy theory bucket."