On Friday, news agency Reuters reported that the Free Software Foundation, which controls licensing rights for a number of components that are part of widely distributed Linux variants, including Novell's SUSE Linux, was considering changes to the public licensing system under which Linux is distributed.
It was reported that those changes would preclude the inclusion of Linux in third party distribution deals such as the one Novell recently signed with Microsoft and "ban" Novell from selling future versions of Linux.
Novell's spokesman called the Reuters report "speculation" and insisted that Novell's Linux business customers -- a roster that includes Wal-Mart -- are not in any legal jeopardy. "Our products are covered by the current licensing system. Even if there are changes going forward, that won't affect what our current customers have purchased," the spokesman said.
At issue is a marketing and distribution deal that Novell inked with Microsoft in November. Under the deal, the two companies pledged to work together to increase interoperability between Novell's Linux products and Microsoft's Windows products and to market the combination to businesses.
At the time, the deal was roundly criticized by Linux advocates, who claim that it paves the way for Microsoft to inject its software patents into the open source environment by mixing Linux with Windows.
Reuters reported that the Free Software Foundation is now considering changes to the next version of the General Public License -- GPL 3 -- that would effectively prohibit Novell from selling future versions of Linux that will be covered under GPL 3.
Should that happen, Novell could work around the situation, said the company's spokesman. "You'd have a scenario where distributors like us would need to balance the two licenses by distributing some things in GPL 2 and GPL 3," said the spokesman.
However, the spokesman said Novell is working to avoid such an extreme situation. "We're in talks with the Free Software Foundation. We'll see what emerges and act appropriately," he said.