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12/5/2006
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Linux Development Lab Lays Off Nine, Girds For Legal Combat

OSDL appointed Mike Temple, its chief financial officer, as COO and plans to employ 19 in 2007.

Is Linux so much a part of the mainstream that it now needs to be protected from patent challenges?

That appears to be the conclusion of IBM and Intel representatives at the Open Source Development Labs, which has been a focal point of Linux development as the employer of Linus Torvalds. OSDL reduced its staff by nine members in its budget for 2007, including CEO Stuart Cohen who has resigned to form an open-source venture. OSDL appointed Mike Temple, its chief financial officer, as COO and plans to employ 19 in 2007.

Although it still lists providing a safe haven for Torvalds' development work as its top priority, spokesmen for the OSDL acknowledge the staff changes reflect a change of mission and emphasis for OSDL.

Providing increased legal support for Linux and open source is now the top priority, after Torvalds' and other key developers' employment, according to a statement put out by OSDL yesterday. New COO Temple said in the statement that OSDL has made "some difficult decisions" to restructure and focus on "specific projects and programs that create the greatest value for its members."

Getting Linux accepted in the mainstream enterprise is no longer an issue, Temple said. Linux "has received unprecedented market validation and continues to see unprecedented growth," he noted in the statement. So OSDL "must refine its focus to meet the evolving needs of our members."

Temple wasn't available for more specific comment as to what those needs might be, but Intel and IBM representatives both mentioned legal goals. Dan Frye, VP of open systems development for IBM, said "extending legal initiatives to support Linux" was the goal after providing a base for Linux development. "IBM is committed to OSDL as it moves into 2007 with new energy around collaboration between developers and members [and] extending legal initiatives to support Linux."

Richard Wirt, VP and general manager of Intel Software and Solutions Group, said OSDL will focus on "legal services and education" after referring to continued developer support.

The OSDL restructuring comes on the heels of Microsoft reaching a patent-sharing agreement with Novell that protects users of SuSE Linux from any claims by Microsoft.

Microsoft president Steve Ballmer answered questions on the pact at a SQL Server conference in Seattle by saying it was necessary, since Linux distributions contain Microsoft intellectual property. He has not clarified the comment by specifying what part of a Linux distribution he was referring to. Novell disavowed Microsoft's assertions, saying it was not a party to them.

In a frequently asked questions statement, OSDL said it had been necessary "to change our skill mix," and that some development projects at OSDL "will cease, since the work has either already been completed or has transferred to our members." In addition to Intel and IBM, OSDL has 68 other members.

Cohen, a prominent spokesman for Linux since becoming CEO, indicated he'll be working to establish a government/business/computer industry community to jointly develop software along the lines of an open source project. OVP Venture Partners, a venture capital firm in Portland and Seattle, says it will work with Cohen on the project.

OSDL established a patent commons in August 2005 where patent holders could pledge their patents, with the right to enforce the patents shifting to OSDL. That would allow any challenge to Linux to be met by a portfolio of patents that could become the basis for a counterclaim, a practice frequently found in patent disputes between large companies.

Cohen at the time said the commons would make it easier for developers to take advantage "of the good works of vendors, individuals, and organizations that may wish to pledge patents and intellectual property in support of the community."

Editor's note: The 11th graph was changed to more accurately describe Cohen's future plans.

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