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Novell Injects MS Lawsuit Exploit Into Open Office 251

Posted by kdawson
from the danger-will-robinson dept.
F.M. Petain writes, "It looks like Microsoft's first move in the 'Linux owes us' game is to move a Pawn. A few days ago, a Novell programmer, Noel Power, submitted patches to add VBA compatibility to Open Office's spreadsheet module. This is great for people trying to convert the business desktop from closed source to open source, but is this gift really a ticking time bomb? What happens when Microsoft declares that the VBA code was stolen?" The patches may have been submitted only a few days ago, but the code must be considerably older; the article claims that nine distros in adition to SUSE already support the VBA extensions in their versions of Open Office. (Linux.com and Slashdot are both part of OSTG.)
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Novell Injects MS Lawsuit Exploit Into Open Office

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  • Poison pill (Score:5, Insightful)

    by scsirob (246572) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @03:40PM (#16898178)
    Microsoft is trying to slip poison pills into projects that endanger their cash cows... Be very, very careful!

    I'm truely amazed that Novell is co-operating to let them do this. How can they benefit from Linux being threatened when their entire business is revolving around Linux these days??
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 18, 2006 @03:40PM (#16898186)
    All patches from Novell must be rejected, as of now. As well as a statement of our standpoint wrt/ their actions, it can only be assumed that they will include a poison pill that makes Microsoft's case.

    Oh, and for Saturday night relief - even the mighty can be seduced by MS charm: farewell, Napoleon! [ifilm.com]
  • by CYwo1f (166549) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @03:48PM (#16898250) Homepage
    Besides the presumptuous headline, can we please try to distinguish between VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) and VBS (VBScript, I assume). Next, it appears that the Novell programmer is simply integrating a patch into the mainline product which the other distros have been applying during their packaging procedure for some time now. Is there any evidence that the VBA code was lifted from Microsoft (ie. they're setting people up for a copyright liability), or that some aspect of the VBA implementation is patented? No? I didn't think so.
  • Re:Poison pill (Score:5, Insightful)

    by marcello_dl (667940) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @03:51PM (#16898272) Homepage Journal
    How could SCO benefit by declaring "better to use windows than linux?" :) SCO did not benefit. Their managers probably did.
  • Cut the crap (Score:5, Insightful)

    by paniq (833972) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @03:54PM (#16898290) Homepage
    Cut the crap, this is pure paranoia. Since when exactly does every little action by Novell employees deserve an article at Slashdot?
  • Not surprising (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bssteph (967858) * on Saturday November 18, 2006 @04:07PM (#16898402) Homepage
    The author's reaction, that is. A lot of the above comments are saying the article is garbage and FUD and paranoia and etc., and maybe it is, but keep in mind that for a lot of people (and probably, a lot of projects), this kind of paranoia is going to be the first thing that crosses their mind with they see patches from Novell.

    "How will this possibly screw us later?"

    Get used to these responses, it's the new Novell.
  • by public transport (864195) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @04:13PM (#16898474)
    Microsoft has two projects which are important for their lockin, .NET and MS Office, and two projects Mono and OpenOffice.org which they wish never existed. They have recently made a deal with Novell on both. There is smoke, we just don't know if its an innocent campfire or two houses being torched. Microsoft's has been quite innovative in their quest to eliminate their competitors in the past. There is good reason to keep an eye at Novell and Microsoft at the moment.
  • Re:Poison pill (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 18, 2006 @04:21PM (#16898550)
    1. Novell owns the LAN server market. Is too fricking stupid to keep developing and eventually is crushed by NT and Linux for servers.

    2. Novell envies Microsoft so buys WordPerfect. WP for Windows is initially a pathetic joke and MS Word takes over the number 1 spot. Novell continues to piss around, WordPerfect continues to lose market share, and eventually, after WordPerfect is way, way behind, Novell sells WP to Corel (another loser company) for peanuts compared to what they originally paid.

    3. Novell buys SuSE and then Ximian. Immediately moves to change SuSE default desktop to Gnome, alienating many of SuSE long time customers. SuSE continues to lose market share and the Germans wish they'd been taken over by a company that (a) isn't a building full of pussies, and (b) has a fricking clue.

    4. Novell is STILL trying to sell fricking Netware. Doesn't seem to notice that nobody fricking gives two turds about Netware anymore.

    5. Novell is "indemnified" by Microsoft for any IP that might be included in SuSE (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!) in return for a cash infusion to delay the inevitable. Novell is instantly ostracized (a la SCO, another Microsoft shell company) by the entire Linux community, which ironically HASTENS its inevitable demise.

    Novell: One very lucky company... one time, twenty fricking years ago, when they somehow managed to produce an outstanding product called Netware... for it's time. The responsible developers apparently left shortly thereafter because it's been an embarassment to themselves and to those stupid enough to let themselves be acquired by Novell ever since.

    What a bunch of maroons.
  • by diegocgteleline.es (653730) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @04:22PM (#16898560)
    All patches from Novell must be rejected, as of now. As well as a statement of our standpoint wrt/ their actions, it can only be assumed that they will include a poison pill that makes Microsoft's case

    If MS/Novell releases open source code is because they want to make it opensource. That means that Microsoft/Novell would *agree* on releasing it as opensource code.

    If Microsoft wanted to sue Linux companies for patent usage, he could do it without injecting any "poison pill". The patent system is so broken (even MS admits it) that Linux is very probably infringing thousand of Microsoft patents.
  • by cyberjessy (444290) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @04:23PM (#16898578) Homepage
    After reading all the scathing criticism lately about Mono and OOo being tainted by MS patents, it leaves me to wonder why WINE never had so many skeptics (though it did have a few). With the same line of reasoning, WINE should be at a greater risk.

    Anyway not that I think any of these will face any problems,
    1. Anti-Trust - It will be difficult for MS to pull of anything close to killing a small competitor out of business using patents.
    2. Massive attrition at Microsoft - All things being equal, people tend to work for saner, lesser-evil companies. There is a certain pride in it, and I don't fancy a lot of people saying - Yeah I work for SCO! (I just dug this interesting article from Paul Graham about MS Patents [paulgraham.com])
    3. MS has benefited from interoperability, and cross-technology support for years (Remember how Word had Word perfect emulation modes and shortcuts). I don't think patents cover those APIs too.
    4. And piss off the large clients??
    5. Total loss of good-will and PR disaster.
    6. Can OIN (Open Innovation Network) patents be used against Microsoft?
    7. Only a tiny fraction of Mono and OOo will ever fall under the patenttotine, and those will no doubt be re-written and re-implemented the same weekend.

  • by HangingChad (677530) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @04:28PM (#16898616) Homepage

    If MSFT is going to try and litigate Linux they're going to try it with or without Novell. OpenOffice is compatible with a lot of file formats, including PDF export. If this was some attempt to poison an open source code base it's both clumsy and ineffective.

    Unless Ballmer is completely stupid...and I wouldn't necessarily rule that out...then you have to believe the SCO litigation-by-proxy is seen internally as a huge, embarrassing mistake. If anything the whole fiaSCO actually highlighted how strong Linux is from an IP standpoint. SCO demonstrated that attacking Linux is bad business, and the reaction of the open source to community to an attack from MSFT could be even more extreme.

    In my opinion Ballmer is bluffing. It would be stupid for MSFT to launch a direct attack against Linux. More likely this is their own clumsy way of trying to cut a deal, handicapped by naturally poor corporate execution and their ego driven CEO. You don't have to look any farther than Zune to see another glaring example of ego inspired faltering execution. Ballmer wanted to grab a piece of the iPod market because he doesn't like Jobs and had they been anyone but MSFT they might have succeeded. This same group isn't going to be any more effective or execute any better against Linux. So don't give them the satisfaction of going off the handle and every bit of drool that comes out of Ballmer's mouth.

  • by symbolic (11752) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @04:33PM (#16898674)
    The patent system is so broken (even MS admits it) that Linux is very probably infringing thousand of Microsoft patents.

    Thousands of Microsoft patents, or thousands of valid Microsoft patents?
  • Re:Stolen posts. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EvanED (569694) <evaned.gmail@com> on Saturday November 18, 2006 @04:37PM (#16898696)
    Wrong. If Novell can distribute it, then everyone else can. If everyone else can't, then neither can Novell, though for different reasons. (If everyone else can't distribute it because of patent issues, then Novell can't distribute it because the GPL doesn't grant distribution rights if you can't or don't license the patents too.) This means that if MS sues another distro over patent issues, and the offending code is traced to Novell, then everyone ELSE who has code in the kernel can then sue Novell for brach of contract/copyright violation, especially if they continue to distribute the code themselves. (Depending on the outcome of the case mentioned a couple days ago.)
  • by wfberg (24378) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @04:59PM (#16898880)
    The patent system is so broken (even MS admits it) that Linux is very probably infringing thousand of Microsoft patents.

    Thousands of Microsoft patents, or thousands of valid Microsoft patents?


    The patent system is so broken.. it doesn't matter. Patents are considered valid until proven - at great expense - otherwise.
  • VBA code from MS? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lpq (583377) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @05:35PM (#16899174) Homepage Journal
    From the original article, it seems the code predates the Novell-MS agreement. That would suggest it didn't come from MS. So why is this a problem?

    Can the other distros (which the article claims had previously added the code) add MS compatibility code and have no problem, but when Novell adds the same code, they'll be accused of adding MS-supplied code?

    Hopefully Novell will clarify their standing with MS such that any code released by Novell under the GPL is truly free GPL code.

    Another area is the restriction that Suse development is limited to hobbyist development only. Commercial developers get no protections when using GPL code from SuSE. Sounds like SuSE may have shot themselves in the foot.

    -l
  • Re:Poison pill (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ray-auch (454705) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @05:56PM (#16899362)
    4. Novell is STILL trying to sell fricking Netware. Doesn't seem to notice that nobody fricking gives two turds about Netware anymore.

    Sadly in the big corporate world that just isn't true, I wish it was (would make life a lot simpler). I get asked for Netware / eDirectory / Groupwise (you missed that one) integration all the time. The people asking aren't asking for nostalgia - they are running networks with 10k+ desktops on those products right now.
  • by Crayon Kid (700279) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @05:56PM (#16899364)
    If there's one thing that Microsoft does well, it's business. Their technical skills may be poorly managed, but they do killer business. How else do you think they kept their position if their software is so bad?
  • by replicant108 (690832) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @05:57PM (#16899374) Journal
    If Microsoft wanted to sue Linux companies for patent usage, he could do it without injecting any "poison pill".

    The point is that Microsoft doesn't want to sue at this time.

    MS (like most of the big patent-pushers) does not want a Big Patent War before they get software patents passed in Europe - because the chances of getting software patents passed after a Big Patent War are slim-to-none.

    European Patent Wars Heat up Again [technocrat.net]
  • by kras (807696) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @06:12PM (#16899508) Homepage Journal
    fork the further development of Ooo into a Novell (Microsoft) and a Debian fork. see how far the Microsoft influence goes, and see how far the FSF influence goes. THEN choose your pick.
  • Re:Poison pill (Score:3, Insightful)

    by HiThere (15173) * <charleshixsn&earthlink,net> on Saturday November 18, 2006 @06:47PM (#16899790)
    I trust that in five years (or less!) when MS changes the terms for renewing the deal, you'll still be able to switch to a decent OS.

    I'm sure that if you've been running SUSE it's quite convenient to continue running it. It just isn't very smart.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 18, 2006 @07:52PM (#16900292)
    I'd hardly call this case of "paranoia". Few had issues with Novell-contributed code before they started signing deals with Microsoft. But everyone in the open source community now should be very cautious about any source code coming from Novell.

    Most of us are developers, not lawyers. We don't know the intimate details of this contract they signed. Even if we did, we are not necessarily in the position to know, from a legal standpoint, exactly how it affects us. Thus we have only one response: to shun all code from Novell, regardless of where it came from or for what project it was developed.

    Dealing with software coming out of Novell is just not worth the risk, especially when it may directly impact projects worked on by those outside of Novell. It's not worth it to put a very important project like OpenOffice.org at risk, even if the contribution made by Novell could be quite useful. It's better to have OpenOffice.org without some minor functionality, rather than not having OpenOffice.org at all (due to licensing or legal troubles).

  • Re:VBA? Feh.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by abirdman (557790) <abirdman.maine@rr@com> on Saturday November 18, 2006 @08:28PM (#16900600) Homepage Journal

    If MS is contemplating a lawsuit (nothing in TFA indicates that), it's not because of one user coding up macros to make their lives easier. MS doesn't make (much) money from individual users, they make their money on corporations, some of which have an infrastructure investment in Excel macros (I know, I know, it's a horrible idea... but it's true). Those macros represent a huge moment of inertia for an organization to overcome before they can switch to another spreadsheet-- that's why it's "cheaper" to pay the massive licensing fees for MS Office than to change to free software. Changing platforms requires planning, controlled conversion, and meticulous testing of code that does something that in many cases no one even remembers precisely. Many users don't even know they're running macros, they just know to 1) load the spreadsheet, 2) press Ctrl-X or something, and 3) type in some new numbers. That creates a very difficult situation for someone planning to change platforms.

    If OOo includes transparent VBA support, which can be demonstrated to be reliable, much of that inertia is overcome. MS doesn't care about an individual coder who wants to write spreadsheet macros, whether they're in VBA or Haskell or Snobol or RPG-- they've already lost those users. It is very much in their interest to keep those 50-seat (or 20,000-seat) user licenses coming in. And protecting that revenue stream will pay for a lot of lawyers.

  • Re:Poison pill (Score:2, Insightful)

    by azhrei_fje (968954) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @12:48AM (#16901894)

    I don't agree.

    Just because Ford or Chevy moves in the wrong direction with new products, doesn't mean I should buy a new car. The same applies to operating systems.

    Granted, I will be on the lookout for anything unusual going on with SUSE, and I will certainly be watching to make sure that I don't install something from a SUSE repository that I shouldn't, but I think jumping ship is a bit premature at this point.

  • by ikeleib (125180) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @02:08AM (#16902256) Homepage

    The RTFA is an accurate statement of fact. The summary on slashdot is not. Facts of interest:

    • Noel, who not a MS schill and is actually a very nice guy, has been working on this for a long time and this code has been shipping with ooo-build for a long time. The ooo-build code is in gnome-cvs, and you can peruse the history youself if you like. The patches are in the patches/src680 directory. You probably are interested in the ones with the vba- prefix.
    • ooo-build is a build wrapper that also applies patches. You can select which patches you want and which patches you don't. Most Linux distros use ooo-build to build their packages. Thus these patches go through evaluation by most distros for their "freeness" (DFSG and others). All patches in ooo-build must have a JCA (Joint Copyright Assignment) signed, which amongst other things requires that the contributor actually own the copyright of the code in question.
    • This code is all LGPL. For those that are not familiar with the LGPL, here is a snippet
      For example, if a patent license would not permit royalty-free redistribution of the Library by all those who receive copies directly or indirectly through you, then the only way you could satisfy both it and this License would be to refrain entirely from distribution of the Library.
      As the joint copyright holder (see above), this means Novell.
    • For the last time, Openoffice.org is not mostly Java. It's almost entirely C++.
    • Openoffice.org is a very challenging project and is in need of good hackers. For all the bashers on slashdot who say that it is too bloated or too old, I invite you to help. Few free software projects enable you to have your code literely run by millions of people all over the world. If you want to help, jump on #openoffice.org or #go-oo or one of the mailing lists and dive in.
  • Re:So... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by zCyl (14362) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @05:33AM (#16902906)
    Essentially, Open Office becomes the poor clone of Excel that can't quite compete.

    There's no need for that. Open Office can assimilate compatibility with MS Office, AND it can go beyond. For me, major turning points were when Open Office started supporting HTML editing and PDF exports as standard features out of the box. In addition, I've frequently found Open Office to have better support for old MS Office formats than new versions of MS Office.

    Scripting should be no different than the file format capabilities. Open Office can support the most used scripting capabilities in Excel, plus an assortment of other options. Then it is MS Office which cannot compete feature for feature.

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