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Microsoft/Novell Deal Could Create Two-Tier Linux Market 375

Rob writes writes to mention a Computer Business Review article about the recent Microsoft/Novell Linux deal. Article author Matthew Aslet warns that while some may see the announcement as a step forward, it may ultimately be very divisive for the Linux community. From the article: "Microsoft made it clear that only SUSE users and developers, as well as unsalaried Linux developers, are protected. 'Let me be clear about one thing, we don't license our intellectual property to Linux because of the way Linux licensing GPL framework works, that's not really a possibility,' said Microsoft chief executive, Steve Ballmer. 'Novell is actually just a proxy for its customers, and it's only for its customers,' he added. 'This does not apply to any forms of Linux other than Novell's SUSE Linux. And if people want to have peace and interoperability, they'll look at Novell's SUSE Linux. If they make other choices, they have all of the compliance and intellectual property issues that are associated with that.'"
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Microsoft/Novell Deal Could Create Two-Tier Linux Market

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  • by csoto ( 220540 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @11:42AM (#16751917)
    Novell just bent over and let Stevie "embrace and extend." Rather than usurp Red Hat, this is going to make Microsoft-connected SuSE Linux software coda non grata in the OSS community.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @12:00PM (#16752193)
    There is: live in a country without software patents :)
  • Licensing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jamienk ( 62492 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @12:00PM (#16752199)
    So what, exactly is Novell licensing from MS? If Novel declares that they only have the right to distribute certain GPL'ed code because of a license that they've bought, then, under the terms of the GPL, they cannot distribute that code at all.

    MS and Novel know this, and that's why they don't call what they've done "licensing." Instead, as they've said, they have carefully taken the GPL into account when they made this deal (in order to work around it), and called their deal a "promise not to sue" or some such.

    If MS DOES successfully sue another distributor or coder over GPL'ed code, then Novell's deal with MS would not give them any EXTRA ability to continue to distribute that code.

    So what have MS and Novell done? They have created the illusion that Novell has licensed MS patents and that other Linux distributions do not have this license. The truth is:

    * No court has ruled that MS holds patents on any GPL'ed code

    * MS has not claimed that any specific GPL'ed code violates MS's patents

    * If MS DID bring a patent suit against a prominent Free software project or it's proxy, it would be resolved:

          - Many big projects would fight in court (Red Hat, FSF, IBM), and MS would lose

          - MS would come under attack by other companies that have interest in GPL'ed software and that have large patent portfolios -- MS would back down

          - If MS did win a suit (or if the legal battle was too much), the code would be replaced quickly

    Question: how does the BSD'ed code (or Apache licensed, etc) fare in the above context?
  • They're Not (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @12:03PM (#16752229)
    Microsoft only helps Microsoft. History is a resounding proof of that. Mark my words - they'll use Novell to gain leverage and then the hammer will drop.
  • Re:FUD (Score:2, Insightful)

    by oh_my_080980980 ( 773867 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @12:07PM (#16752327)
    "Microsoft is not saying "Novell Linux is the only safe Linux distro from Microsoft lawsuits"

    Hey ass-wipe, that's EXACTLY what Microsoft is saying! Read the freaking press releases. Microsoft is stating if you want to be safe from patent infringement use Suse. They did not single out mono. In fact several .NET books use Mono as an example of .NET's cross-platform compatiblity.


  • Re:FUD (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @12:10PM (#16752371) Homepage Journal
    FUD, it may be. But its source isn't Slashdot. Mr. Ballmer, it seems to me, is doing a reasonable Don Corleone impression here. In effect he's saying, "Nice little operating system you got here; it would be a shame if anything happened to it."
  • Re:Not kidding (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ibbo ( 241948 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @12:18PM (#16752487) Homepage
    Its simple bring all distro's under Europe wing and see if MS can be a bully then. We all know how Europe is chomping at the bit already, so lets remove the bit and let them chomp M$.

    Patent Infringements I ask you they certainly know how to play their own game thats for sure.
  • by spun ( 1352 ) <> on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @12:24PM (#16752583) Journal
    IBM also has one of the largest patent portfolios ever assembled. Right now, somewhere in Redmond, a Microsoft programmer is infringing on IBM patents. If MS wants to play rough, IBM will play rough. Here's a couple articles on IBM, open source, and patents: 01.wss [] n-source+use/2100-7344_3-5524680.html []
  • Re:FUD (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @12:32PM (#16752737) Homepage Journal
    To be sure. But this particularly stood out to me: "And if people want to have peace and interoperability, they'll look at Novell's SUSE Linux."

    How can that be interpreted as other than a threat?
  • Re:FUD (Score:3, Insightful)

    by _Sprocket_ ( 42527 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @12:40PM (#16752885)

    As much as I like to bash Microsoft, this whole "Microsoft is the next SCO" is bullshit.


    Microsoft is basically saying "If you want to run your ASP.NET app with open source software then Novell is your only choice". Microsoft is not saying "Novell Linux is the only safe Linux distro from Microsoft lawsuits" because Linux is inherently safe as long as you don't run Microsoft's crappy .NET software on it.

    I missed the quote that actually mentions ASP.NET. What I do see is Steve Ballmer saying:

    "This does not apply to any forms of Linux other than Novell's SUSE Linux. And if people want to have peace and interoperability, they'll look at Novell's SUSE Linux. If they make other choices, they have all of the compliance and intellectual property issues that are associated with that."

    And that sounds far more like the ficticious second quote you're discounting.
  • by jamstar7 ( 694492 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @12:41PM (#16752905)
    Agreeing to licence "IP" from Microsoft just gives legitimacy to any claims they are going to pursue against other Linux vendors/developers. It sets a bad precedent, even if those claims are likely to be bogus. It is obvious MS are thinking this way, otherwise why would they pay Novell rather than the other way round?

    TFA says Microsoft ain't about to license any IP that can be GPL'ed. So what is Novell really getting? A promise not to get sued for 5 years. Period.

  • Sound and Fury (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tony ( 765 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @12:43PM (#16752937) Journal
    This is all a bunch of sound and fury, signifying Vista.


    When XP rolled out a few years ago, a bunch of businesses used Linux to leverage better deals on corporate licenses for XP and MS-Office. Microsoft probably "lost" hundreds of millions (meaning they didn't make hundreds of millions more) this way.

    Now that Linux is much more mature, some of those threats to migrate to Linux might actually turn out to be real. Wouldn't *that* suck for Microsoft. But even if they didn't, customers would use Linux like they did last time.

    Many companies might delay rollout of Vista simply to take a "wait-and-see" approach, to see if anyone else is moving to Linux. It's not a big threat, but it is a threat. Microsoft needs Vista to not look like a flop out of the gate. This is a big launch for them, and they need it to look good, to drive early sales. Yes, they have the market locked up, but it's better to get everyone's money *now*, and not later, especially for their stock price.

    Anyway. To me, that seems the most reasonable explanation, what with the timing of this. The important thing isn't that Linux is in trouble (which it is not); the important thing is that there is the *appearance* that Linux is in trouble.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @01:06PM (#16753329)
    Novell IS paying royalties, but on their support contracts. Obviously, none of the lawyers involved were born yesterday, and rightly or wrongly, they think the current strategy keeps them from running afoul of the GPL provision on patent protections. I would imagine that the main point is that the royalty is on the service contracts, rather than the Linux distributions themselves.
  • by grimwell ( 141031 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @01:12PM (#16753401)
    Samba is a seperate project... it is not Novell/SUSE technology. So if MS works with Novell on improving Samba interoperability with Windows, Novell would still be required by the GPL to release the source... which would allow others to benefit from work. One of the requirements of distributing code under the GPL requires that the code be free from patent infrigments.

    Only Novell specific/grown code will be afforded the "convant not to sue" protection, as it probably won't be released under the GPL. Possible examples would be the Mono project being released under a non-GPL license. (is it already?)
  • by Kadin2048 ( 468275 ) <> on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @01:21PM (#16753553) Homepage Journal
    better/faster than any other company in the world

    Can they really be said to be "better" or "faster" when they actively discourage other people with potentially superior products from competing with them based on technical merits?

    Seems to me that almost every area where Microsoft is dominant and not faced with external competition has stagnated. Look at what happened to the browser between the demise of Navigator and the rise of Firefox: basically nothing (well, except viruses and trojans; it was a great time to be a malware writer).

    They are a huge brake on what ought to be an accelerating, ever-changing industry. The outcome that Microsoft would really like -- one platform, under EULA, with per-seat licensing and DRM for all, Amen -- would be nothing less than a dark age for information technology.

    Microsoft only looks like a good thing when it's compared to nothing at all; if you compare it to what might exist in the absence of such a distorting influence, they've caused nothing but harm.

    Microsoft didn't 'bring computers to business;' businesses would have bought computers in the absence of Microsoft; the advantages are just too great to be ignored. What Microsoft did, was effectively eliminate any choice that businesses might have had in the OS and software they wanted to buy and run, in order to be inter-operable. They injected themselves into computing and ended up in a place where they could become one of the "costs of doing business," applicable to everyone, everywhere. You aren't just paying the Microsoft Tax when you buy a new PC, you're paying it all the time, everywhere, because everyone uses their stuff. You're paying for it in the cost of your food, your electronics, your entertainment, and even your taxes, because not even our government can live without MS.

    Microsoft is a plague, a parasite, that has so thoroughly infested the business world that it's basically impossible to remove. But just because it's too close to our vital bits to get rid of it now, shouldn't prohibit us from considering the nature of the infection and realizing that there could have been -- indeed, was -- a multitude of other ways that things could have gone.

    Microsoft didn't "push technology all over the globe," people in all corners of the globe pulled that technology to themselves; they bought and paid for it because of the benefits it offered, despite the necessity of paying for Microsoft software in order to get anything done. Microsoft didn't create those markets, or those benefits; they would have existed anyway, because the technology really is that good. It's not good because of Microsoft -- MS didn't invent email, or CRM systems, or word processing, or spreadsheets -- and there's little that Microsoft offers that wouldn't be offered by somebody else in their stead. (Even the 'lingua franca' that Microsoft provides to the world could be easily replaced by a variety of open standards, because such a standard would be mutually beneficial in the absence of a standard piece of software.) It's good despite Microsoft.

  • by Coryoth ( 254751 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @01:25PM (#16753611) Homepage Journal
    Right now, somewhere in Redmond, a Microsoft programmer is infringing on IBM patents. If MS wants to play rough, IBM will play rough.

    Indeed, and that's exactly why MS is never going to actually sue anyone over patents. The aim of the exercise, as far as I can tell, is to make a lot of noise and give the impression that you might sue at any minute. As far as MS is concerned having people beleve you're about to sue is as good as actually sueing in terms of results, an it is a lot safer for them. MS is never going to sue - they might be rathere noisy about it though.
  • by spurioustruth ( 970045 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @02:21PM (#16754381)
    In general, if I am using a Linux product I use it at least partially because of its rather clean non-encumbered IP position. The hope is that the GPL assists in that protection as well.

    While it would be nice to be able to say "Well, if Novell (or whoever) is willingly putting IP encumbered stuff into their Linux then I don't want to use them", the reality is you can't really make that statement: the IP systems currently in play make disclosing the problematic elements a major no-no.

    There has been basically one study (from 2004--New York based Open Source Risk Management will announce it has studied the Linux kernel and discovered it infringes on about 283 issued patents. Twenty-seven of those patents are owned by Microsoft.") so far that has addressed this IP problem in the kernel--the kernel, not the applications that run in that infrastructure.

    Yes, we know a few of the items of interest, but 283 of 'em? And you can't exactly find the list because of the little perverse "if you knew then you willfully violated IP..." issue in patent law.

    We (the Linux community in general) need to spend a little time making sure our IP is spotless against such (hopefully) groundless diatribes from the likes of Microsoft (and SCO, etc...).

    Ultimately tho, companies with big pockets will always be able to sue (with cause or with malice) smaller entities and make them go away.

    A few nice links:

    Willfullness issue (just an abstract): =472901 []

    The OSRM position paper on IP issues in Linux (minus the specifics of course... ) patentpaper.pdf []

    Another piece from D. Ravicher (of OSRM/PubPat fame) re: Ballmer's comments:,1759,1729908, p []
  • by Burz ( 138833 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @02:25PM (#16754433) Homepage Journal
    Non-profit distributions like Debian won't be impacted much.

    Wrong. The deal means that any would-be contributors to Debian having a commercial Linux background are assumed to be litigation targets.
  • Re:Violating GPL (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:13PM (#16757413) Homepage
    I don't understand how this can work. GPL-licensed software cannot be encumbered by patents. If the software cannot be redistributed (say, by other vendors) because it is violating patents, wouldn't that mean it can't be GPL?

    It goes sorta like this:

    1) People write GPL code, release it without patents.
    2) Someone patents the concept in the code written by someone else independantly
    3) Microsoft tells Novell they will indemnify Novell and their users from being sued by MS for violating their patents.
    4) By implication, anyone who isn't covered by this deal is assumed to be in a legally shaky position as they *could* get sued.

    This is not about Novell releasing new code which is patented, but licenced under the GPL. This isn't even about Microsoft giving Novell any new technologies. This is about Microsoft saying that one specific vendor and their customers will not be sued for the patent infringements which have already occured (at least according to them), but that everyone else who isn't a Novell customer is running tainted software. In effect, the 'licensing' agreement means that MS is promising to ignore any overlap with their patents. In return, Novell gets indemnity, and MS gets to (try to) drive a wedge into the legality of Linux.

    Now, wether it makes sense to patent software that a skilled practitioner could come up with or not, that's a totallty separate issue. This is about patents which have been granted being 'infringed' by people who implemented the same concept in another place.

    But, if MS holds a patent which covers, oh, say, Samba file sharing, then anyone but Novell and their customers (and unpaid developers) are, according to MS, potential targets for litigation.

    Aint it grand?

  • by Kadin2048 ( 468275 ) <> on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:44PM (#16758041) Homepage Journal
    I'm just going to respond to a few things here, unfortunately I don't have the time to give you a more complete response to all your points; I think the majority of your criticisms were well-founded and there is certainly room for debate.

    Just as an aside, I'm not sure where you got the idea that I'm an open source 'bigot' or zealot. I don't think I mentioned open source at all in my original post. Although I do think that there is a big place for open source software, I wouldn't ever argue that it is the be-all and end-all, or that every piece of software must be open source. I prefer it, but there are reasons why a company selling software wouldn't want to open its code, and reasons why a buyer of software might not care whether it's open or not. That's not really relevant to this discussion at all; you can have competition and open standards with or without open source. I wasn't really taking sides in that issue.

    As to your first question, "Ok, then name one company that can push technology better/fast than [Microsoft]?" There's no way I can even respond to this, because it's a loaded question; I reject the premise of it. Microsoft, with a few very small exceptions, doesn't and hasn't "pushed" any technology. (The exceptions are mostly trivial things, like them pushing one programming language over another, etc.) I might potentially accede to a claim of them 'pushing' the deployment of the GUI on commodity hardware with Windows originally, but even then, it was something the market was ready for and they were just in the right position to provide it. It's easy -- but wrong -- to give them credit.

    This isn't exactly a criticism of Microsoft per se. Very few companies "push" technology; the great majority of them simply respond to consumer demand. Microsoft is definitely in this second camp. When they saw a market for web servers (as one trivial example), they produced a web server. They didn't "push" web servers, and giving them credit is silly; the demand existed, and the market hates a vacuum. If they hadn't produced IIS, it's ridiculous to think that there would be 30% (or whatever their marketshare is) fewer webservers in the world, those servers would just be running something else.

    So to answer your question, there are lots of companies that 'push' more technology than Microsoft. MS doesn't push, it gets pulled; its M.O. is to wait and watch a budding market, and then insert itself and capture the business. They "push" the market in the same way that a surfer 'pushes' a wave -- they're not driving it, they're riding on it.

    Sometimes it seems as though MS is 'pushing' something, but it's rarely anything productive: they obviously pushed Windows 95, and are pushing Vista, by pulling support for older products and thereby forcing users to upgrade. But neither of these products represented great steps forward in technological development, nor did they respond to any new desires or really give any innovative solutions to existing problems. They were at most an incremental step forward, and came at great cost. Causing a lot of needless hardware replacement isn't a good thing -- at best it's a broken-window fallacy; forcing something to be "fixed" that wasn't broken, and thereby diverting resources that could have been spent elsewhere.

    In terms of its actual products, Microsoft's offerings are rarely superior at any one thing. They make a word processor, but not the best word processor (a lot of people liked Word Perfect, back before it became nearly impossible to use because everyone else was using Word). Similarly, Excel was a decent spreadsheet program, but Lotus 1-2-3 was arguably superior. Windows always was a mediocre desktop OS; for years, Apple was widely accepted as having the better UI. Windows NT is a passable server; BSD is and was arguably more secure. Etc. For almost any Microsoft product, you can find some offering that's better in that particular niche. A coworker once described Microsoft as the company of "good enough." They maintain themselves at

A quarrel is quickly settled when deserted by one party; there is no battle unless there be two. -- Seneca