Of course, Novell doesn’t have to say there are patents. They just let
Microsoft offer the customer “protection” “in case your house
burns down” and then Novell steps in and says “check it out! We
already paid your protection money for you!”
Or I guess their sales message could be: “Customers, for your benefit
we have paid money to remove a nonexistent threat. That’s $N less
we’ll be spending to provide value to you.” Somehow I doubt it. For
this deal to help Novell’s sales, they have to (at minimum) leave
Microsoft’s bogus claims uncontested.
Let’s see how one tries to weasel out of the spirit of the GPL:
Q1. How is this agreement compatible with Novell’s obligations under
Section 7 of the GPL?
Our agreement with Microsoft is focused on our customers, and does not
include a patent license or covenant not to sue from Microsoft to
Novell (or, for that matter, from Novell to Microsoft). Novell’s
customers receive a covenant not to sue directly from Microsoft. We
have not agreed with Microsoft to any condition that would contradict
the conditions of the GPL and we are in full compliance.
Novell’s end user customers receive a covenant not to sue directly
from Microsoft for their use of Novell products and services, but
these activities are outside the scope of the GPL.
Even if the above is true (I am not a lawyer), it’s a technicality and
an unintended loophole. GPLv3 seems to have new improved
text that might help, and I sure hope the FSF will be making it
crystal-clear in the GPLv3 final draft.
That would force Novell to fork gcc, glibc, and so forth. Something
they would deserve.
As an open source developer, on an emotional level, I feel
Novell (the company) should now be treated like a company
distributing GPL software without source, or for that matter a company
distributing proprietary software without a license. Both are illegal
and against the wishes of the software’s creators.
I’ve written countless lines of GPL software and I am
against it being distributed under Novell’s “protection racket”
terms. If the GPLv3 solves this problem I’d love to switch to it, “tivo clause” or not.
Just to be clear on one thing. I’m not against proprietary software on
moral grounds. I use a fair bit of it for various reasons, though I’m
also a huge open source fan and think open source’s practical and
social benefits are unquestionable.
If any company wants to write and sell proprietary software, then
great for them – open source can compete on the merits. I would also
work on proprietary software and be OK with it, though in
practice I’ve never had a job doing so.
This is not a religious argument about open source, it’s a matter of
respect for a community that works together, and the wishes of
creators. If I write something and put it under the GPL, then
I want it under the GPL where all of us working on it can use
it. I don’t want it to be made proprietary, for someone else’s
benefit, due to some shady deal and legal technicality.
Commercial yes (and encouraged), proprietary no.
In Novell’s world, if I write something and GPL it, Novell will try to
convince customers to buy support from Novell instead of from me (the
original author) because of some nebulous, unspecified,
almost-certainly-bullshit “IP issues” hinted at by Microsoft and
legitimized by Novell for the price of $348 million.
In proper open source, Novell (or anyone) is welcome to take my code
and convince customers to buy support from them because they are a big
company and I’m just some guy on the Internet. But Novell (or anyone)
is not welcome to proprietarize my code. If I wanted them to
take my code proprietary I’d choose a BSD license and not the GPL.
I want them to compete with me on a level playing field by offering a
I suppose we can’t blame Novell’s executives. I imagine they needed
the money, so asked Microsoft “what would it take for you to give us a
few hundred million?” – and then did what Microsoft asked.
The rest of us should be asking why Microsoft asked for
what they got. Here’s my speculation: Microsoft is much more threatened by
open source as a model than they are by the Linux kernel or Novell
specifically, and they’re very happy to throw a technical bone –
especially one that involves Linux running virtualized on Windows
– if in their mind it could help “proprietarize” open source software
and spread doubt about it.
I’m sure many people will dismiss the above because I work at Red
Hat. Fine. But I have to say, this post would be a lot more
strongly-worded if I didn’t work at Red Hat and didn’t have
to worry about that perception.
If it isn’t obvious, this is a personal opinion and no more. I’m
neither a lawyer nor do I have special knowledge.
I’m pretty sure none of the open source developers working at Novell
were involved in this decision, and I don’t envy them having to live
with it. Hopefully there’s some way the community can make the Novell
execs regret their actions without harming the innocent bystanders.
(This post was originally found at http://log.ometer.com/2006-11.html#7)