Microsoft Inks Novell-Like Patent Deal With Xandros, Despite GPLv3

Under the deal, Microsoft and Xandros will collaborate on several commercial and technological fronts with an eye to improving interoperability.

The open source community is still drawing the line, but Microsoft already crossed it.

In a move that defies a forthcoming revision of the license governing open source software, Microsoft on Monday announced an intellectual property agreement with Linux distributor Xandros.

Under the deal, Microsoft and Xandros will collaborate on several commercial and technological fronts with an eye to improving interoperability between Microsoft's Windows products and Xandros' desktop and server Linux offerings and other open source products.

Microsoft claims that open source programs violate 235 of its patents, but its five year arrangement with Xandros includes a pledge not to sue Xandros' Linux customers for infringement.

"They'll have the knowledge and security that the software comes with all the license rights," said Bob Muglia, a Microsoft senior vice president, during a keynote presentation Monday at the company's Tech Ed conference in Orlando.

The problem: The final draft of new license terms published by the group that governs open source software specifically prohibits open source distributors from entering into patent protection pacts with commercial developers.

According to the third version of the General Public License, set for final release this summer, open source distributors cannot participate in patent protection deals unless the deal was in effect prior to March 28.

GPLv3 also requires commercial developers involved in existing patent protection deals to extend the protections to all open source software users. The new rules, according to the Free Software Foundation, were drafted as a means to "attack" Microsoft's collaboration and patent protection deal with Novell.

That deal can remain in place under GPLv3 because it was struck prior to March 28. However, GPLv3 does not offer similar grandfather protection from the clause requiring participants in such deals extend patent protection to all open source users.

Muglia did not address the apparent conflict between the Xandros deal and GPLv3, but Microsoft's willingness to forge new patent protection accords with Linux distributors despite the prohibitions may be an indication that the software maker believes GPLv3's terms won't stand up in court.

Xandros officials were not immediately available for comment.

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