Just when you think you understand your world, something weird happens.

In this case, two things happened this week that made me stop in my tracks and go, "Say what?"

The first thing that happened was Microsoft cutting a deal with Novell that would enable better interoperability between Windows and SUSE Linux, which created a bit of a firestorm in the tech world.

• Click here to visit FOXNews.com's Home Computing Center.

On the one hand, you have true believers who think that Linux will take over the world and that this was a sign that Microsoft was giving in to the inevitable.

On the other hand, a fairly large base of Microsoft customers has been reluctant to embrace Linux, partly because of interoperability concerns and partly because of potential patent issues.

The Novell/Microsoft deal was as much about patents as it was about interoperability.

Both companies have substantial patent portfolios. Microsoft's Brad Smith went so far as to say, "If you buy SUSE Linux, you also get a patent covenant from Microsoft."

Ah, but the hand of friendship still is sheathed in an iron glove. An eWeek article by Darryl K. Taft quoted Microsoft's (MSFT) Steve Ballmer, who said in response to a question about possible deals with other Linux suppliers, "Without some kind of patent co-existence framework, this is hard to do..."

Take that, Red Hat! (RHAT)

Then there's the whole issue of Vista Licensing Terms.

Several weeks ago, I wrote an indignant column about Windows Vista licensing, stating that Microsoft seemed to be restricting your ability to easily upgrade the hardware in a system without buying yet another copy of Vista.

This week, Microsoft relented, and in a fairly major way.

In an email from Casey Boggs of Waggener-Edstrom (one of the external PR agencies that works with Microsoft), the company noted that the key licensing terms have been changed. Let's recall how the old terms read:

"15. REASSIGN TO ANOTHER DEVICE. a. Software Other than Windows Anytime Upgrade. The first user of the software may reassign the license to another device one time. If you reassign the license, that other device becomes the "licensed device."

Now let's look at the revised wording:

"15. REASSIGN TO ANOTHER DEVICE. a. Software Other than Windows Anytime Upgrade. You may uninstall the software and install it on another device for your use. You may not do so to share this license between devices."

So you can reactivate Windows any time, so long as it's only on one system at a time.

That's certainly fair, but there's a few caveats (aren't there always?)

This applies only to the retail version of Vista. OEM licenses need not apply.

This is rarely an issue with an off-the-shelf system from Gateway (GTW), Dell (DELL), or other system supplier.

That's the way XP is licensed today, and it's not that big a deal. People who buy whole systems are rarely the type of customers who would swap out a motherboard.

But clever tech geeks have often found that buying an OEM license when they buy a new motherboard or hard drive is cheaper than buying the retail version. In those cases, you may still have problems re-activating after several motherboard swaps.

What's really going on is that Microsoft is behaving like any large company with a huge customer base. It's trying to satisfy the needs and concerns of its customers while simultaneously trying to grow revenues and profits, thus satisfying the needs and concerns of shareholders. I believe this state of affairs is known as "capitalism."

It is the case, however, that Microsoft isn't simply another large company. It has a tremendous impact on the industry, the economy, and even society as a whole, perhaps more so than many companies. So it needs to tread carefully as it juggles the needs of many constituencies.

The fact that it would pay attention to the needs of a fairly small community — tech geeks — doesn't mean that the company will pay attention to any small group. It does mean they'll listen to the ones who are vocal and influential.

So it behooves us to keep our eye on the ball, and not relax just when one of our pet causes has been "won." And we have to be vocal when we uncover new stupidity, whether it's Microsoft's or anyone else's.

Copyright © 2006 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Ziff Davis Media Inc. is prohibited.