Microsoft Does Shuffle Sidestep As Open Source Samba Moves To GPLv3

If Novell includes the latest version of Samba in its SUSE Linux distributions, Microsoft said it's unwilling to have its Linux subscription coupons be used in connection with any GPLv3 code.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

July 9, 2007

3 Min Read

Microsoft is attempting to sidestep entanglement in the barbs of GPLv3's provisions, as a change to open source software Samba may strain Microsoft's relationship with Novell.

Linux itself continues to be distributed under GPLv2. But a key part of the Novell SUSE Linux bundle, the Samba file translation server, will be placed under GPLv3 in its next release, Jeremy Allison, lead developer on the Samba project, said Monday. The next release is expected in a month or two, he added.

Novell may continue to distribute Samba under GPLv2, but at some point, Linux users will demand the latest improvements in Samba code, which will be protected by GPLv3.

If Novell includes the latest version of Samba in its SUSE Linux distributions, Microsoft said it's unwilling to have its Linux subscription coupons be used in connection with any GPLv3 code.

Microsoft already appears to be backing off part of its pact with Novell -- its SUSE Linux coupon offensive worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Microsoft is currently distributing coupons to Novell customers saying it "will not entitle the recipient to receive from Novell ... a subscription for support and updates relating to any code licensed under GPLv3," Microsoft said in a statement posted to its Web site July 5.

Microsoft took its stance versus GPLv3 a week after version 3.0 of the open source license was released by the Free Software Foundation June 29. Prior to the Microsoft statement, there had been speculation by open source legal authorities that Microsoft's issuance of coupons could entangle it in the provisions of the GPLv3. Among other things, GPLv3 forbids any issuer of GPLv3 code from suing a GPLv3 code user for patent infringements.

Microsoft has maintained that subsidizing Linux support shouldn't be confused with being bound by the provisions of the GPL license. "Microsoft is not a party to the GPLv3 license. ... None of its actions are to be misinterpreted as accepting status as a contracting party of GPLv3 or assuming any legal obligations under such license," the company's July 5 statement said. Most Linux distributions go out the door bundled with additional packages of open source code, and one of the most frequently used is the Samba file translation server, which handles exchanges between Linux and Windows machines.

"After internal consideration, the Samba Team has decided to adopt the GPLv3 for all future releases of Samba," said Allison in an e-mail message. The next release of Samba will carry the release number 3.2.0. It and all subsequent releases will be covered by GPLv3, he said.

"I am very happy with the improvements in patent protection for GPLv3 code. I think that's a big plus for the license. ... I think the GPL will work as intended," he wrote in a follow-up message.

Novell spokesman Bruce Lowry said the day after Microsoft's statement that Novell, "independent of Microsoft's position, will continue to distribute SUSE Linux Enterprise Server with its full set of features, including those components that are licensed under GPLv3.

Groklaw, a site that follows legal disputes involving consumer protection and open source code, said that "Microsoft says it's not bound by GPLv3. They think they can so declare, like an emperor, and it becomes fiat. It's not so easy. I gather Microsoft's lawyers have begun to discern the GPL pickle they are in."

The Groklaw commentator added that under pressure from GPLv3, Microsoft "has partially backed out from the Novell deal, and so has Novell." The agreement struck last November included commitments to work on interoperability between Windows and Linux and those provisions of the pact still apply, the commentator added.

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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