Ballmer repeats threats against Linux

Novell execs must cringe when they see things like this:
Steve Ballmer has reissued Microsoft's patent threat against Linux, warning open-source vendors that they must respect his company's intellectual property.
In a no-nonsense presentation to New York financial analysts last week, Microsoft's chief executive said the company's partnership with Novell, which it signed in November 2006, “demonstrated clearly the value of intellectual property, even in the open-source world.”
The cross-selling partnership means that Microsoft will recommend Suse Linux for customers who want a mixed Microsoft/open-source environment. It also involves a “patent co-operation agreement”, under which Microsoft and Novell agreed not to sue each other's customers for patent infringement.
In a clear threat against open-source users, Ballmer repeated his earlier assertions that open source “is not free”, referring to the possibility that Microsoft may sue Linux vendors. Microsoft has suggested that Linux software infringes some of its intellectual property, but has never named the patents in question.
Ballmer said: “I would not anticipate that we make a huge additional revenue stream from our Novell deal, but I do think it clearly establishes that open source is not free, and open source will have to respect the intellectual property rights of others just as any other competitor will.”

He almost makes it sound like the real value to Microsoft, and the real intention of the agreement, was simply to posture for further protection money from others. I wonder how Novell feels about that in retrospect. Matt Asay asks: “Steve Ballmer: Was this the friend Novell wanted?” I think the answer to that is now clear.
I still wonder if Microsoft realistically thinks they can sue. The amount of potential litigation that could get thrown back is substantial. Red Hat seems to be one of the more likely Microsoft targets, but don't forget that the likes of IBM depend on Linux sales for large chunks of consulting money. It's even more interesting now that Oracle is selling what is in essence a RHEL clone. At this point in the game, I wonder how effective this kind of FUD slinging really is anyway. A few of years ago, many people were fooled. These days, that's certainly changing. Ballmer, it would seem, is not changing with the times. It's unfortunate, as some parts of Microsoft seem to be be attempting to.
–jeremy

Interview: Jens Axboe

A fantastic in-depth interview with Jens Axboe has been posted over at KernelTrap. If you're interested in block layer stuff, schedulers or the kernel development process in general, this is a must read. If you don't learn something from each and every KernelTrap interview that Jeremy posts, you are either a serious kernel ninja or Linus.
–jeremy

MySQL AB – a new product and an IPO

Speaking of Open Source companies that understand their market and core strengths, MySQL AB has also been on a tear. Earlier this week, the company announced its MySQL Enterprise Unlimited program. From the press release:
MySQL AB, developer of the world's most popular open source database, today unveiled a simpler way for large and growing organizations to acquire and adopt enterprise software. Designed with a customer’s perspective in mind, a one-year MySQL Enterprise Unlimited subscription offers a company-wide enterprise site agreement at the unprecedented low price of $40,000 (EUR 32,000, GBP 24,000).
“MySQL Enterprise has made it significantly easier to purchase database software and technical support for our entire organization,” said Glenn Bergeron, systems manager for Instaclick Inc., one of the first companies to take advantage of MySQL Enterprise Unlimited. “This new offering is ideal for corporate IT organizations with a growing number of projects but a tightly-fixed budget.”
MySQL Enterprise Unlimited is designed for companies with existing site licenses for Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, Sybase and IBM DB2. Last year, a survey of the Independent Oracle User Group showed that a full third of its membership also used MySQL1. With a MySQL Enterprise Unlimited subscription, an organization can develop, manage and fully support any number of MySQL database applications — significantly reducing IT time, cost and risk.
“Due in large part to advantages in distribution and volume, open source has the ability to disrupt traditional enterprise software pricing,” said Stephen O'Grady, principal analyst for RedMonk. “MySQL is attempting to prove as much with its latest site wide agreements, which offer customers the ability to support every database across their enterprise at a fraction of the traditional cost.”

Make no mistake about it, MySQL AB could have actually raised the price of their main product and still sold more. Instead they have chosen a plan which I think has a higher upside potential long term. Matt covers some of the reason the company is able to do this:
Zack told me over email (in response to my question, “How can you possibly make money at that price?):
The reason we can make money is because:
-The software really works
-And we don't have expensive Armani-wearing Ferrari-driving sales reps closing 40K deals.

Expanding on that is a post on Zack's blog. This isn't just about Oracle, it's about disrupting the industry. That's why this is a long term play. It's game changing. A lot of proprietary companies may have raised their rates as mentioned earlier, to boost the bottom line in the short term. It all looks very nice on the balance sheet. MySQL represents what I consider the future. Vibrant sustainable companies that treat their customers like partners and not like prey.
I see that the company is now looking at an IPO. As you may have guessed by my previous comments, I'll certainly try to get in on that. As you may have also guessed, I also regularly recommend and implement MySQL and run it on a site that gets a considerable amount of traffic.
–jeremy

Novell: Hubert Mantel Returns, Jeremy Allison Resigns

Quite a bit going on at Novell over the last couple days. We have Hubert Mantel returning and Jeremy Allison resigning. For those that don't remember, Hubert is one of the Suse founders and had resigned from Novell a little over a year ago, saying: “”Too late for me. I just decided to leave Suse/Novell, this is no longer the company I founded 13 years ago.” Jeremy, who is a core Samba guy, joined Novell a bit over a year ago and resigned over the recent Microsoft Patent agreement, saying:
I know you don't want to hear this, I know *nobody* wants to hear this but I'll not be able to live with this if I don't say it publicly at least once.
Whilst the Microsoft patent agreement is in place there is *nothing* we can do to fix community relations. And I really mean nothing.
We can pledge patents all we wish, we can talk to the press and “community leaders”, we can do all the right things w.r.t. all our other interactions, but we will still be known as GPL violators and that's the end of it.
For people who will point out to me we don't “technically” violate the GPLv2 here's an argument I recently made on the mailing lists.
“Do you think that if we'd have found what we legally considered a clever way around the Microsoft EULA so we didn't have to pay for Microsoft licenses and had decided to ship, oh let's say, “Exchange Server” under this “legal hack” that Microsoft would be silent about it – or we should act aggr[i]eved when they change the EULA to stop us doing this?”
The Microsoft patent agreement has put us outside the community, and there is no positive aspect to that fact, and no way to make it so. Until the patent provision is revoked, we are pariahs.

When asked about that deal, Mantel said:
6. What do you think about the Microsoft/Novell deal?
I think it is a good thing especially for the users. If you think some years back, Linux was not taken seriously. Now even Microsoft acknowledges that it exists and will not go away. I understand that many people don't like it as Novell is collaborating with the “evil empire”. But I don't like this way of thinking; we are not working against somebody, but we are working FOR Linux. Fundamentalism always leads to pain. What's important is that Linux is free and will remain to be free. The source code is open to everybody, this is what counts for me. Some people seem to be torn in an interesting way: On one hand they want “world domination”, at the same time they don't like the feeling that Linux has grown up and needs to deal with the real business world out there. We have a saying here in Germany that goes along the lines of “wash me, but do not make me wet”. If you want Linux to succeed, you cannot live in your own separate universe.

One thing is clear, a rift is definitely forming on this issue. Was that one of the goals of the agreement from the Microsoft side? Some are speculating that, but I'm still unsure what the motives were. It took Jeremy about 30 seconds to find a job as he seems to have landed at Google. Regardless of what you think of the patent agreement, you have to applaud Jeremy for sticking up for what he believes in. He put his money where his mouth is and gave up a job he clearly enjoyed because of it. You have to respect that kind of conviction. It will be interesting to see what direction Novell heads in over the next 6 months or so. Meanwhile RHT seems completely unaffected by this or the recent Oracle news. Today they beat analysts expectations handily and the stock jumped over 25%.
–jeremy
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Oracle questions GPL open sourced Java

It appears that Oracle is siding with IBM on the issue of the Open Source license for Java. From the article:
Steven Harris told Computer Business Review he believed the release of the Java code as open source would be beneficial, but questioned whether the Santa Clara, California-based company would have been better advised to have released it under an Apache license.
“It's a good thing that they're open sourcing it, and it opens up access to people who previously considered there were barriers to it,” he said, while noting that “those barriers were pretty low” in the first place.
However, he also repeated comments made by IBM Corp that the choice of the GNU GPL made the project incompatible with existing projects under the Apache and Eclipse initiatives.
“The most active Java communities are Apache and Eclipse. It is unfortunate that they did not provide a path that would allow these projects to grow,” said Harris. “The community is in Apache and Eclipse. Sun's choice creates a new community.”

Sun responded:
Speaking to Computer Business Review earlier this month Sun's chief open source officer, Simon Phipps, explained that using the GPL would overcome fears about license compatibility with Linux. “We've been working on the Java platform for a considerable time and we've got to the point where we're considering 'how do we grow the market',” he said.
“The most important thing is that that the Java platform is not included in many GNU Linux distributions.” Choosing the GPL, which is already used for Linux, avoids that issue, he explained. “Java now becomes the development platform of choice for enterprise GNU Linux users.”

I think this example is an indication of part of the problem some have with license proliferation (and note that these are two of the most popular Open Source licenses). Sun is basically in a position that it has to choose between Linux compatibility and Eclipse/Apache compatibility, or license Java under a myriad of licenses (which is really not an optimal situation). Someone is likely going to lose here, which is a shame since we're on the same team and have the same goals. Unfortunately I don't have an answer to the problem. Fortunately, people much smarter than me are working on it ;)
–jeremy
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Oracle Linux, Distributions, Redux

It's interesting to read what a well known and well respected MySQL Employee has to say, not only about Oracle Linux specifically but about the state of Linux distributions in general. A couple snippets:
First, I'm really unhappy with the state of Linux distributions today. Its a tower of babel for the most part. Its a hope that the LSB will solve some of this, but today shipping on Linux is a real mess. Upgrading is a mess, especially for applications developed to rely on a stable platform.
Redhat ES is still the 800lb gorilla. Problem is that its too expensive when you get thousands of servers (or even a hundred). There was a day and an age where libc problems kept rearing their heads but that seems to be mostly over. I'm not going to pay what they want me to pay. They don't present me with a value proposition that I like. I used to buy one copy of it each time it was released to keep my servers upgraded, but I stopped that after RH9.
I'd like to see a winning Linux distribution, but right now the race is wide open as far as I am concerned. Fedora could improve on upgrades to the point where I was happy with it. Oracle could innovate and create a platform that ISVs would consider stable. Ubuntu could get a major win and we see sites move to it. Redhat could realize that they have created profit by creating a ceiling for adoption and find a new way to profit (since that ceiling is only going to drop…).

I agree with much of what he has to say. I've posted multiple times on what I think about RHEL pricing, so I won't get into that again. I've had considerably better luck than Brian with Debian it would seem and I would _never_ recommend you run Fedora on a production server (ever). I've also been meaning to take a closer look at rPath, and when I get a chance to I'll post an update. The fact that a MySQL employee is so openly willing to try a Linux distribution from a substantial competitor (I know, MySQL AB officially claims they are not competing with Oracle… I obviously disagree ;) really says a lot about the mentality of the average Open Source enthusiast. It's not just about squashing your competitors and creating your own silo, it's about technology, innovation, tinkering and curiosity. It's about creating genuine value and breaking down barriers, not holding clients captive and creating artificial barriers.
–jeremy
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Red Hat Response to Oracle and Microsoft/Novell Moves

Here's a response from Red Hat on the recent upheaval in the Linux world. My take? Half really good points, half disingenuous and/or ridiculous. First, the good points.
Last time I looked, we were still in ring, and we are still standing. The big mistakes companies and employees make is to be focused on stock price in the short-term.
Think back to the Microsoft/Sun announcement from a couple years ago, and today, you haven't seen any of the promised technical collaboration from that partnership whatsoever.
Novell has fallen into the trap of allowing Microsoft to do exactly what it wants to do, which is to trumpet IP (intellectual property) solutions and promises.

He's completely right. These days, far too many people focus on short term stock price. Vision and long term planning is almost a thing of the past. In the end, I think this will be the undoing of many companies – Open Source or not. Second, the highly touted and much hyped Microsoft/Sun announcement from a couple years ago didn't really create anything substantial that I can think of. Whether the Novell/Microsoft deal will bear more fruit remains to be seen, but they both sure did draw a lot of media attention. The last sentence I think speaks for itself.
On to the bad:
Having said that, does Red Hat think either of them has taken the right approach, now that Microsoft and Novell have made 'Microvell'?
We still believe that we will be the dominant player in the Linux market, because by that time there won't be any other Linux players. We will have succeeded once again.
This is not about IP. This is about the freedom to meet customer needs and to create competition. That problem is, you can be either for freedom and collaboration, or you can take a different approach. These companies are trying to do both. I can at least respect Microsoft, because they don't pretend to be an open source company.

The first sentence is a bit disingenuous. This was a partnership (and a loose one at that), not anything close to a merger that would warrant a 'Microvell' moniker. Stating they will be the “only” Linux player is odd on multiple levels. First, they have always claimed that not being the only vendor was one of the big advantages for Linux. Second, in what world will every other Linux player disappear in the next 365 days? I'm not sure where he was going with this one, but this is the kind of hubris that gets companies in trouble. The last one is a nice backhanded jab, but he should have just come out and said what he meant – in his opinion Novell isn't an Open Source company, even thought they claim to be.
I remain interested in how this will play out, not only for Red Hat and Novell; but for Linux in general. As you may have guessed, I'll keep you updated.
–jeremy
Red Hat, RHAT, Novell, Microsoft, Linux, Open Source
Edit: There is now also a more marketing slanted official response on the Red Hat site.