My first reaction when I got an e-mail from Microsoft about a big announcement involving Chief Executive Steve Ballmer this afternoon was that Vista was going to be shipping early. Rumors have been flying that the new and much-delayed version of the Windows operating system is just about done.
Instead, it’s a much bigger bombshell: Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ) has announced a partnership with Novell (nasdaq: NOVL - news - people ) and will help promote Linux.
This is stunning. This is like Red Sox fans announcing they’re going to root for the Yankees.
Microsoft has spent ten years bashing the free-of-charge open-source Linux operating system and trying to kill it. Now Microsoft is making nice.
Novell distributes a version of Linux called Suse. The company has been an also-ran in the Linux market, behind Red Hat (nasdaq: RHAT - news - people ), the market leader. But support from Microsoft could give Novell a boost.
That’s yet more bad news for Red Hat. That company is still reeling from an attack last week from software giant Oracle (nasdaq: ORCL - news - people ), which said it would start offering support for Red Hat’s version of Linux.
Red Hat’s PR department tried to put a good spin on the Microsoft-Novell pact: “It’s fantastic news. Two of the main tech companies decided to get behind Linux within six days. If that’s not validation, what is?” a spokeswoman said.
Um, right. Note to Red Hat: When companies start talking about Microsoft “validating” their market, they’re usually about to be validated out of business.
Even before the official press conference, the news was setting off excited speculation around Silicon Valley about where all this might be headed.
Larry McVoy, chief executive of software maker BitMover and a longtime collaborator with Linux creator Linus Torvalds, says he’d love to see Microsoft and Novell produce a hybrid operating system. His dream system would combine the Linux kernel (the core of the operating system) with tools, libraries and other operating-system components from Microsoft.
That’s because the Linux kernel, a sort of cousin to Unix, is more stable and reliable than the Windows kernel. It doesn’t crash the way Windows does, and it keeps processes from interfering with one another, McVoy says. He should know; he’s a former Unix engineer at Sun Microsystems (nasdaq: SUNW - news - people ) and was deeply involved in the creation of the Linux kernel.
“Microsoft’s kernel is crap,” he says. “But its infrastructure code and its applications are great. I would pay twice as much per seat for a combined Linux-Microsoft operating system as I would for pure Microsoft.”
Amazing news. And for Red Hat’s shareholders, who are watching the company’s stock sink this afternoon, terrifying news.