Microsoft-Novell Deal: Nightmare In Linux Land

The open source community lashed back, but was it right?

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

February 2, 2007

3 Min Read


Still, for many Linux developers, Novell's agreement with Microsoft represents a deal with the devil. One theory posits that it's a ploy by Microsoft to destroy the open source movement by pitting one Linux distributor against the rest of the Linux community. It "is clearly true the agreement sets SUSE apart from the rest of the crowd," says Mandriva's Banchilhon.

Not so, says Novell, which was instrumental in establishing the Linux Foundation, a new support organization fashioned from two predecessors: the Free Standards Group and the Open Source Development Labs. "The fact that Novell was a founding member of the FSG and the sole major commercial Linux distributor in OSDL ... demonstrate the commitment we place on standardization to prevent fragmentation," said Markus Rex, VP of services strategy for Novell, in a statement.

Some Linux developers believe Novell is being victimized by Microsoft, unwittingly or not. "If you see Microsoft start to bully [other] Linux vendors for [intellectual property] licensing, Novell will have a hard time recovering in the open source community," says Kevin Carmony, CEO of Linspire, which markets a desktop version of Linux. Some interpret the patent covenants as a sign that there's Microsoft intellectual property in Linux, a frightening thought for open source advocates. Novell denies this contention.

Some in the open source community have taken Novell to task for violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the GNU General Public License, which describes how open source software may be used. Bruce Perens, primary author of the GNU contract, has organized a petition urging Novell to recant the patent-protection part of the deal with Microsoft. The day after the deal was announced, developer Rich Morgan posted a letter accusing Novell of violating the GPL and calling for a boycott on his Open Addict Web site.

Morgan later posted a response to the boycott letter from Novell senior VP John Dragoon. According to Morgan's blog, Dragoon wrote: "As to your belief that we have violated the GPL, we disagree. We have made no admission of patent violation within Linux and would take no action that knowingly prevented us from selling and supporting SUSE Linux. We have been a long time supporter of the Open Source community and its many efforts to create and distribute world class Open Source software. We remain committed to that goal."

The Microsoft-Novell deal didn't come out of thin air. Two days before, Oracle had announced that it would be rebranding Red Hat Linux and providing its own support at half the price of Red Hat's. Raven Zachary, an analyst with the 451 Group, predicts the Novell deal, and Oracle's move before it, spell consolidation in a fragmented Linux market. Linux versions most likely to survive include SUSE, Red Hat, Debian, and a Debian-based distribution from Canonical known as Ubuntu, he says.

There may be other, less obvious, implications. As developer Morgan noted on his site: "There are still many unanswered questions which are not likely to be answered any time soon because of [nondisclosure agreements] Microsoft implemented surrounding the deal."

Illustration by John Ueland

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