Although it may seem like shocking news – the fact that Microsoft and Novell are getting together to support Windows/SuSe Linux virtualization on each others operating systems – but it really shouldn’t. I’m actually kind of confused with all of the appalled gasps in the computer media about it.  

Even back in the day of Ray Noorda (May he Rest In Peace), Microsoft and Novell worked together. They allied on several occasions to make sure that Microsoft Windows and NetWare played nicely together, for example. Sure, they battled on the Network Operating System front and even on the application front when Novell bought Wordperfect and got its teeth kicked in by Microsoft Office. And yes, Novell sued Microsoft on several occasions. But who hasn’t these days?

Ray Noorda’s favorite term for such things was ‘coopetition’. Ray would favor competing with rivals on some fronts, while cooperating with them on others. In that light, Novell working with Microsoft to further its Linux business should be no real shocker at all.

Clearly as Number 2 in the Linux market with a fading revenue stream, Novell needs the recognition. A rub from Microsoft will go a long way to keeping Novell afloat as it continues to transition its business from NetWare to Linux.  But what’s in it for Microsoft?

Microsoft actually gains quite a bit by this alliance as well. First and foremost, it gains the appearance of tolerating alternatives to its offerings. Much in the same way that Microsoft tolerates Mac OS X by doing such things as creating and continuing Microsoft Office for the Mac, supporting Novell’s version of Linux at least gives it the appearance of benevolence. 

Secondly, working with Novell, the Number 2 Linux vendor, gives it the opportunity to blunt Red Hat’s increasing influence in the Windows Alternative world. With Microsoft’s blessing, Linux-curious IT Professionals may look to Novell’s version rather than the most popular corporate version, Red Hat. This weakens Red Hat in particular while at the same time increasing the possibility of fracturing Linux much the way that Unix is.

Finally, partnering with Novell cuts Oracle, and to a lesser extend Sun, off at the bend. If Oracle creates its own version of Linux as has been rumored for some time, Linux would instantly gain credibility that it lacks with Red Hat. Novell’s been big in business for years, but from the Linux standpoint, it’s stuck at Number 2. Oracle Linux would probably quickly leapfrog both Novell and Red Hat on its own and may challenge Windows. Therefore, by choosing a business-friendly vendor like Novell and getting close, it creates the image of a Linux vendor that business can trust – before Oracle get’s there.

Novell may get a bad wrap from some in the Linux community for sleeping with the enemy, but for the reasons mentioned above, it’s a good tactical move by both Novell and Microsoft. Novell’s business should grow, as should Linux adoption in general. This should be enough for the Faithful. However, quite a few wouldn’t be happy unless an asteroid hit Redmond. For those, this will be bad news. For the rest of us, anything that makes Windows work better while increasing our options has to be a good thing.