Yes it happened. After years of Microsoft disrespecting Linux in front of the press and general media, they made a deal with Novell. By now, you must of all heard what the deal is, and it consists of. If not, follow the previous link and get it straight from the source.
I love how the short attention span well all have. It seems like only yesterday when Microsoft accused Linux of not being serious competitor. Saying that open source software is analogous to communism or utopianism. Then Linux's numbers started climbing. Then they started saying they had a superior product line, and how Linux did not offer the same service in the enterprise or desktop (notice the change in philosophy?). Linux's numbers kept growing, and look what happens now.
Some guy in a suit while at a board meeting decided that enough was enough. They had to act eventually, or else, the day would come when they would regret it. I don't think that Linux, or any other operating system, application or thingie for that matter, has the power to bring down Microsoft in the foreseeable future. Calm down, I'm not one of those crazies. Yet it does hold the potential to grab an considerable chunk of market share. And Microsoft loves the idea of having most if not all of the market to itself (why wouldn't they?). So they decided to swallow their pride... better yet, act like it never happened, and "collaborate for the benefit of the consumer". After all, isn't that the goal after all?
For Novell this can only mean good news. They will not be sued by Microsoft for patent infringement (more on that in a moment). They will be the first to implement this joint venture in virtualization solutions. They will be Microsoft Certified (I am still awed that the day has come where Linux distributions need to have this). This will give them the competitive edge over other commercial Linux distributions. Especially for serving mixed Windows - Linux environments.
For Microsoft, this just means they are smart. They are covering their collecting @$$es before it's too late. I've always been clear on this matter, Microsoft's products for the most part suck. The people that work there, are another matter all together. Alternative solutions, in this case commercial Linux distributions, have always offered ways to work with Microsoft environments, while the other way around has never existed. Meaning that if I have a Windows only environment, I can slowly ease into a a mixture or migration of a Linux oriented one with relative ease. From network protocols, to document file formats, there is an alternative solution for all your company's needs.
Now, what happens when Bob (running windows), sees that Juan's (running Linux) desktop doesn't crash, works faster, is able to multi task better, and has a better utilization of system resources. Oh, and by the way, can be made to look just like your existing desktop for the ones that are scared to switch. If Bob has a bit of courage, and is tired of his current situation, he'll opt for the switch, while conserving all his data and functionality. Let's scale that up to the system administrator, to the service providers, to the contractors or to the executives. Are you seeing the pattern? In my crazy little hallucination, Linux slowly, but surely takes over the market. Sadly there is very little chance that this will ever happen. Main reason: people are dumb and lazy. That's it. No further profound analysis necessary. Everything comes back to this.
For us, this is only bad news. Why? Because the very proliferation that I described before is precisely what Microsoft wants to stop, and what little proliferation can't be avoided at least needs to be taxed. Microsoft is going to get a slice of SUSE Linux sales, and what ever joint virtualization products emerge. If there is money in the mix that means that the words "Intellectual" and "Property" are going to come up more sooner than later very close to one another. And this is where the poop hits the fan. All of a sudden, all of those alternative solutions that offer mechanisms that work with existing Microsoft environments are infringing upon their intellectual property. This has been going on for a while, but now that there is a Microsoft endorsed, allegedly alternative, solution it's a different ball game.
They are already making efforts to obscure their protocols and formats in all ways possible, in order to keep the alternatives out of business. I hate to be one of those narcissist bloggers how quotes himself, but wrote about this in a past post. "But they will support PDF and ODF in office 2007!", you say? Yes they will. But they have to. Many governmental organizations around the world are switching to Linux, and one of the motives is ODF. If they do not support ODF, they will force government collaborators to use an alternative to office as well. Again, this is the catalyst that can spark a similar chain reaction, but oriented to office applications. If they don't do something about it, then that means more Office licenses down the drain.
This is not only bad news for Linux on the desktop/server. This is especially horrible news for all the appliances that are Linux based as well. A market, to my surprise, which is very big indeed. Have no doubt, the future only holds growth for the Linux based embedded/appliance marketplace. It feeds the need of the dumb and lazy users, because if offers a centric, simple and easy to use interface. Since specific hardware is used for specific needs, the same experience can be brought to the user at a much lower hardware cost, and little or zero base software cost. Not to mention the fact that the manufacturer can extend the current functionalities the Linux platform offers to suit their particular needs. This is the free as in speech part that we always forget about. Now your TiVO, NAS, SAN, DVD Player or video game console can't interact with your Windows PC. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.
In the interim, everyone will applaud Microsoft for helping the little guy and thinking about the clients needs first. We will welcome the new products/services, and rejoice at the new abilities that... we've already had for all these years. In the end, when there is no turning back, we will be paying Microsoft for the right to use anything and everything. Even if they authored the software behind it or not.