RALEIGH, N.C. – In another sign of the approaching apocalypse, Red Hat is apparently preparing to announce a deal to work with Microsoft on interoperability.

Yes, the dreaded Borg of the proprietary software world is talking cooperation with Linux leader Red Hat, reports London-based vnuet.

In fact, vnunet described the potential relationship as a “partnership.”

After a decade of strife and discord – and in some cases downright hateful words – it appears Bill Gates and company are moving to embrace their open source rivals just as they did recently with Novell.

"We have had ongoing discussions with Red Hat for a long time," Tom Robertson, general manager of interoperability and standards for Microsoft, told vnunet.com. His comments were reported Monday morning.

"We are vendors in the same marketplace,” he added. “We have made it clear that we would love to have a deal similar to the Novell deal in multiple respects. Microsoft would very much like to do a deal with Red Hat."

Good grief, it sounds almost as if Jean Luc Szulik, excuse me – Matthew Szulik, Red Hat’s chairman and chief executive officer – has been assimilated.

Microsoft promised Novell a boatload of money, promotional support and cross-licensing. The Novell deal was seen as a sell-out by many in the open source community who trust Microsoft about as much as liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans trust each other.

Mark Webbink, an attorney for Red Hat, told vnunet in an e-mail that Microsoft and Red Hat are in fact talking.

The firms are "engaged on a technical level in a number of interoperability and standards projects with Microsoft,” he wrote.

Just last week at a conference in New York, however, Szulik sounded rather dismissive of the Novel-Microsoft partnership.

"I think that there has been a strong amount of external communication by Microsoft and Novell on this topic," he said, according to Computer Business review Online. "We certainly expect that there will be those cases where customers will consume those coupons. We’re certainly encouraging one or two customers to consume all of them, let’s get this over with."

Szulik was speaking about tech support coupons from Novell for its SUSE Linux being underwritten by Microsoft. While Novell and Microsoft have touted several customer wins, Szulik didn’t sound impressed. "When you think about the amount of workload that’s being placed on these technologies… free doesn’t cut it," he said. "We’re finding a more informed buyer; we’re finding a more strategic buyer."

What will he say if in fact Microsoft does a similar deal with Red Hat?