Ballmer spoke first, saying the companies were announcing "a set of agreements that will really help to bridge the divide between open source and proprietary software." Ballmer says that Microsoft and Novell will collaborate in three major areas: virtualization, management, and document compatibility.
The key ingredient to making this partnership work is the bridge -- a legal framework -- between the open source and the proprietary software camps. That bridge seems to be constructed primarily by a covenant which protects Novell from patent attacks, but details were scarce.
Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, says that Microsoft will not assert its patents against individual, non-commercial, open source developers. They also promised not to assert them against professional developers developing code for Novell.
In addition to its collaboration efforts, Microsoft is slated to assist Novell in the marketing and distribution of SUSE Linux.
Linux creator Linus Torvalds was surprised by the news. "I literally don't know anything about anything. I've seen some of the early Reuters stories about the [Wall Street Journal] article, but I don't know any more than you do, and probably a lot less."
However, Torvalds says he's willing to work with Microsoft too. "If they start sending me patches, I'll take them as long as they have sign-offs."
Novell has a FAQ addressing likely questions on its Web site.