Saturday, November 11, 2006

Novell & Microsoft

Firstly, thank you to all the Veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, we wouldn't have what we have today without you, and your sacrifices. Now for my topic. What is the meaning of the new Microsoft/Novell deal. On Nov. 2, we learned that they were entering a deal, details were still a little "hush hush". The main sticking points were that now, only Novell's Suse Linux users would be protected from "possible suits" for "possible copyright infringement and they would now be collaborating on technologies.

Steve Ballmer states that the two companies are still fierce competitors. Microsoft will first try to convince corporate customers to use Windows before relenting to the notion that they could use Linux. This deal could potentially gain Novell more business, as Microsoft will only vouch for Novell's Suse Linux. Suse users will be protected from being sued for copyright infringement by Microsoft, but Ballmer states that no other Distribution of Linux would be safe from that.

Of course all of that is hearsay, as there is no proof that there is any sort of copyright infringement in the source code for Linux.

While this could potentially mean very good things for Linux. More interoperability between both Windows and Linux, as well as office suites such as Open Office and MS Office. Maybe Microsoft has decided that the "Little Penguin that could" isn't going anywhere. We are in the major leagues where servers are concerned. The desktop is also beginning to be easier and easier to use. New publications are coming out, such as "TUX", and the "Free Software Magazine"; giving new users somewhere to turn to get some help on the basics of the OS.

One result of the agreement, Microsoft's patent pledge to developers, has received significant interest from the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) development community. Bradley Kuhn of the Software Freedom Law Center says this about the "patent protection" provided to software developers for Linux: "A careful examination of Microsoft's Patent Pledge for Non-Compensated Developers reveals that it has little value." It seems that this is only for the amateur software coder. Kuhn goes on to finish with this statement: "In short, the pledge applies precariously to developers who work in a vacuum: those who write original software in their spare time, receive no payment for it, and do not distribute it to anyone under the GNU GPL. It's worse than useless, as this empty promise can create a false sense of security. Don't be confused by the illusion of a truce; developers are no safer from Microsoft patents now than they were before. Instead, Microsoft has used this patent pledge to indicate that, in their view, the only good Free Software developer is an isolated, uncompensated, unimportant Free Software developer." The moment someone gets paid for their work, the "Pledge" no longer applies to them.

Linux users are beginning to question how this agreement doesn't violate the GPL. Since the GPLv3 hasn't been approved yet, Novell didn't have to abide by that one. Here's what the current draft says about patents: "You receive the Program with a covenant from each author and conveyor of the Program, and of any material, conveyed under this License, on which the Program is based, that the covenanting party will not assert (or cause others to assert) any of the party's essential patent claims in the material that the party conveyed, against you, arising from your exercise of rights under this License."

I'll close with this bit from Groklaw. from interview with Bill Hilf.
"Hilf: We started on the general framework for this three years ago. The deal with Novell started about six months ago. There was just a lot of work we needed to do to understand the GPL side of it and not violate the GPL. We don't actually license patents in this agreement. There is no patent cross-licensing. We are saying we are providing coverage for Novell's customers from a Microsoft intellectual property perspective. That allows us to work with the GPL because the GPL is very specific about licensing of patents. That took a while to get to that point from a legal framework.... "

"I read that as saying that there's an intent to have their FOSS cake and eat it too, i.e., they tried to work *around* the GPL rather than just follow it. They know the GPL code can't be encumbered with patents, but they want to do it anyway. I read that as clear intent to sidestep the spirit of the GPL while embracing a perceived loophole in it, to profit from the GPL without adopting it. And by they, I mean Novell too. It agreed to this deal. "

I tend to agree with Groklaw here. IMHO this whole deal would be in violation of the GPL, but to avoid that they used a lot of fancy words to sidestep the it.

1 comment:

BrionS said...

Bruce Perens believes this agreement not only violates the spirit of the GPL section 7, but also the letter of it --

"The particular patent deal that they made is against section 7 of the GPL and also other parts of the license.

Novell is attempting to create a loophole in the license with a legal fiction. By paying Microsoft to make a covenant to Novell's users directly, instead of to Novell, they are attempting to get us, and whatever judges eventually rule on this, to believe that no patents are being licensed even though the effect is the same as if they were being licensed.

There is also the matter of the spirit of the license. By violating that, they are making a clear "screw you" gesture to everyone whose code they are running. There are now a lot of angry people who will now go out of their way to get business to go elsewhere than Novell. Have you noticed that SCO's business went completely down the tubes? Novell's going to have a hard time avoding that. -- Bruce"