Responses from around the Linux Community

Here are some responses from around the Linux community on the recent Novell deal with Microsoft.
Eben Moglen thinks the deal may actually violate the GPL:
It's possible that Thursday's deal between Microsoft and Novell could conflict with a provision in the General Public License (GPL), according to Eben Moglen, the attorney for the Free Software Foundation that created and oversees the Linux license.
“If you make an agreement which requires you to pay a royalty to anybody for the right to distribute GPL software, you may not distribute it under the GPL,” Moglen told CNET News.com Thursday. Section 7 of the GPL “requires that you have, and pass along to everybody, the right to distribute software freely and without additional permission.”
Whether the partnership precludes Novell from distributing Linux depends on precise terms of the agreement that Moglen hasn't seen, he cautioned. But he found other aspects of the deal troubling, too.
Microsoft's pledge not to sue unpaid programmers is “no comfort at all,” given the quantity of paid open-source programmers.

If the deal will have a material impact on Novell earnings (and I'd guess it does), there will have to be a filing on this in the coming weeks, so Eben and others may get the information they need to make an informed decision on this potential GPL violation. If the deal does indeed violate the GPL, I'm not sure how Novell will proceed.
Bruce Perens seems to have similar concerns:
One of the questions yet to be settled is whether Novell will violate the GPL, the license of the Linux kernel and other important software, by offering patent protection that is exclusive to Novell customers. The press release pretty much stated that. On that topic, the preamble of the GPL says it best:
We wish to avoid the danger that redistributors of a free program will individually obtain patent licenses, in effect making the program proprietary. To prevent this, we have made it clear that any patent must be licensed for everyone's free use or not licensed at all.
Novell has clearly accepted that license. But it appears that they are now out to make patent protection a business differentiator.

also from Perens:
“This is actually really bad news,” said Bruce Perens, a well-known Linux advocate. “It sets up Microsoft to assert its patents against all commercial open-source users. The deal is going to be, ‘You have to buy Microsoft-licensed Linux distribution from Novell or there is an implicit threat that Microsoft will assert their patents against you.”
It should be noted that Microsoft has opened this offer up to other Linux distributors, but to me that's of little solace. I'd not expect to see Red Hat sign a similar deal with Microsoft in the near future. Other community members seem less worried. From Linus:
I prefer to be an optimist, and will happily take the option that not everybody needs to be enemies,” said Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux kernel, in an e-mail message. “Let’s see how it all pans out.”
Greg KH, a Novell employee, thinks the media hype is much ado about nothing:
I don't really think this is a big deal at all for the Linux kernel community and code. We are no worse off than we were last week before this announcement, and we actually might be a bit better off now, depending on the actual wording of the agreement (which again, I have not read.)
I've still not formed a final opinion and am reading everything I can get my hands on. I couldn't, however, agree more with John Terpstra:
Instead of judging the book by its cover, we should sit back to weigh the facts, discuss this announcement in rational debate and then formulate a well-thought-out and united response.
That is spot on! The one bit of information that I did miss in my previous post is this bit:
Microsoft will make a one-time upfront payment to Novell for the cross licensing deal. Novell will pay a fee for each SuSE support contract that it sells.
Whoa! A fee for each SuSE support contract that it sells?!? That seems like a really bad precedent and certainly something that could lay the groundwork for future Microsoft litigation. Novell has now inextricably tied itself to Microsoft. I wonder if 5 years from now they'll look back on this deal fondly. Writing a monthly check to Microsoft isn't something I'd want to do if I were a Linux company.
–jeremy
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One Response to Responses from around the Linux Community

  1. Anonymous says:

    I hope Novell doesn't share the same fate of it's former business partner, Corel. (Corel bought WordPerfect from Novell back around 1996). I remember about six or seven years ago, Corel (up here in Ottawa, Canada, eh?), was really bothering Microsoft. Michael Cowpland, its CEO had a vision for Linux second to none, and was pushing Corel Linux with a passion. Wordperfect 8 was included, and this really undercut the competiton and offered an alternative to Windows and Word. A while later Corel brought out WordPerfect Office 2000 for Linux. (I actually bought a copy for around $150). What really impressed me was their free downloads of Corel Photo-Paint for Linux. I used all these programs, although the office suite was a little buggy. But alas, the gutsy little company bit off a bit more than it could chew by running afoul of Redmond. They had lots of legal problems, not only their unauthorized use of Heddy Lamar on their Corel Draw retail box.
    After a new CEO took over (2001?), Corel won a huge settlement from Microsoft, but strangely, from this point on the emphasis on Linux was diminished. They spun off Corel Linux (to Xandros) and discontinued porting any of their commercial software programs to Linux. What a shame.
    While I am no means certain of this, it could very well be that Microsoft made Corel quash its Linux program as one of its conditions of settlement. It does seem kind of suspicious, don't you think?
    So what happens if Novell gets itself into a predicament like this? Will they break away from Microsoft or cave in? Likely they will cave, and give up their open source department.
    So whatever the boys in Redmond are up to, I don't like it!

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