RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Despite vociferous criticism from Red Hat about Novell’s embrace of Microsoft, a major Red Hat partner has now signed on to support the Novell-Microsoft alliance for Suse Linux.

In an announcement sure to curdle the milk of some red-faced Hatters, Dell said Sunday that it would be the first hardware vendor to support the Microsoft-Novell venture in open source.

While Red Hat has described the Microsoft-Novell deal in terms of Chamberlain and Hitler, Dell said it was hearing demand from customers for the Suse package. Dell responded.

However, the deal includes one caveat.

As Sumner Lemon noted in PC Advisor, Dell said it would focus on corporate customers who aren’t already using Linux – as in Red Hat. Dell has been a long-time and major supporter of Red Hat Linux.

Novell and Microsoft announced what was a blood-curdling deal to many in the open source community last November. After all, Microsoft is the Borg of software to the Linux world. Microsoft has said it would make a similar deal with Red Hat (indemnification from potential patent claims, etc.) but so far the Hatters have said no.

Whether Red Hat can resist what appears to be growing demand for more interoperability between Windows and Red Hat remains to be seen,
The Seattle Post Intelligencer gave the Microsoft/Novell-Dell deal story major play in Monday’s editions. The paper described the Microsoft-Novell alliance as “unusual,” which is putting it kindly in the view of its critics.

Rick Becker, vice president of solutions in the Dell Product Group, told the paper that the Microsoft-Novell program’s offerings “resonate very strongly with our customers.” He noted specifically the “assurance” from Microsoft about intellectual property and patents.

However, Linux backers dispute the notion that the software infringes on Microsoft IP at all.

The Dell decision certainly increases competitive pressure on red Hat, which is also locked in combat with another partner, Oracle, and its “Unbreakable Linux” offering designed to win away Red Hat support customers.

Does Dell’s embrace of Novell and Microsoft mean much? Time will tell.

"From Novell’s perspective, I think it’s fair to say that having Dell on board does give the whole relationship (with Microsoft) more credibility," Al Gillen, research vice president at analyst firm IDC, told the Seattle newspaper. But he didn’t say Red Hat should panic, either, noting that he expected the deal to not have a significant impact of Dell server sales equipped with Red Hat or Suse.

Still, seeing a major partner like Dell sign on to Microsoft and Novell can’t be the most pleasant way for Red Hat management to begin a new week.