The Best of Frenemies

A dozen legendary tech relationships that are...well, complicated.

By  |  Thursday, December 11, 2008 at 4:01 am

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3. Microsoft and Open Source

novellballmerFrenemies since: At least the mid-to-late 1990s, when Linux evolved from Linus Torvalds’ hobbyist project, took off, attracted lots of users who never liked anything that ever emerged from Redmond in the first place, and established itself as a serious rival to Windows (especially on the server side of things). But really, the very ideas of open-source software and Microsoft software were on a collision course from the get-go.

Acts of friendship: In 2006, longtime enemies Novell and Microsoft signed a pact that involved millions of dollars of money exchanging hands in both directions, protection for Novell customers against any violations of Microsoft patents in its open-source products, and collaboration on file formats, virtualization, and other technical issues.  (The press conference announcing the agreement included the amazing sight of Steve Ballmer expressing enthusiasm for Linux. Very, very mild enthusiasm.) Microsoft followed up with similar deals with Linux vendors Linspire and Xandros. And it’s been involved in some open-source projects of its own when it’s seen fit, such as its Office Open XML file formats.

Acts of enmity: Most of the rest of the Linux community is as disgruntled as ever with Microsoft and Windows–Red Hat and Ubuntu refused get in bed with them. Which leaves open the possibility that Microsoft could sue those Linux vendors over the 235 patents it controls which it says are violated by open-source and free software. Let’s not even bring Richard Stallman’s Free Software Foundation into this.

Current state of the frenemyship: Let’s be real–the Microsoft/Linux deals are at best marriages of convenience, and they’re not even that convenient. People who are passionate about open source have plenty of opinions about Microsoft; almost none of them are kindly.

(Photo of Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian with Steve Ballmer from Microsoft)

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