I was reading about the Novell acquisition (here) and stumbled upon the fact that Microsoft managed, as part of the disassembly of Novell, to acquire 882 patents that were previously cross-licensed to Microsoft (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Novell – Agreement with Microsoft). I had always been of the opinion that Microsoft had signed the deal with Novell to neutralize some threat that Microsoft had known about in Novell’s patent portfolio, but that their ulterior motive was to undercut Novell’s reputation in the open source world. Before the deal, Novell and it’s (at the time) recently acquired SUSE Linux were starting to gain momentum. However, within minutes of the deal, people started to distance themselves from Novell – and SUSE linux with it. Dealing with the enemy is usually not regarded well in any community – and I suspect the open source community is a bit more touchy about it than most.
And that makes me wonder how far in advance Microsoft had planned it’s strategy. They were able to neutralize Novell’s patents (which may have some hold on MS Office products) for a period of a few years, and then to make sure that the company itself wouldn’t survive long enough to be a major force against them. Now that Microsoft has actually acquired those patents, it’s not such a far fetched idea.
From the moment Novell signed the Microsoft deal, it’s fate in the open source community was sealed – particularly with Novell hitching many of it’s horses (so to speak) to the SUSE platform – as the deal alienated would-be-adopters of the very technology it was hoping to promote.
So, the open question was: did Microsoft know that this would be the kiss of death for Novell? And was it nothing more than an expensive way to acquire the patents in the long run that it knew it couldn’t get in the short run?
I doubt we’ll ever know, but I’d be very interested in finding out the truth.