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Novell Injects MS Lawsuit Exploit Into Open Office 251

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. ( 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??
    • 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.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      This is definitely an "embrace, extend, extinguish" maneuver.

      FTFA (italics are mine): (quoting Noel Power) "I also got the impression that they (Sun -- with respect to Sun's proprietary VBA support implementation) deemphasizing support for their solution. We hope to increase the pace of our upstreaming efforts and aim to have the initial effort completed in the next couple of months."

      If the goal of OOo is to encourage people to migrate away from MS and towards FOSS then deemphasizing VBA support is in the b
    • by iluvcapra ( 782887 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @07:31PM (#16900120)

      This is oblique, but not fully off-topic.

      Maybe the slashdot icon for Microsoft should be switched from Bill the Borg to Admiral Akbar with Steve Balllamer's face photoshopped on.

      Just a thought.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by blincoln ( 592401 )
        How about replacing the regular Novell icon with an N made from thirty pieces of silver?
    • I bet they already did. And at the worst moment they will pull a rabbit out of their hat.

      This novell deal just gets more code/IP into place for the eventual 'takedown'.

      Advice: get and save all the code you can now, before it all goes away and leaves us with nothing.
    • How can they benefit from Linux being threatened when their entire business is revolving around Linux these days??

      Haven't they just received a check for some 350 million?
      If that's not a benefit I don't know what is.

      They have just been set up to be FiaSCO number 2.
      My prediction: SuSE, and possibly Novell themselves, won't be around at all in five years, and I can't help but wonder which Linux distribution is going to be put on the execution block next? I suspect that all the commercial ones are going t

    • by rakslice ( 90330 )
      Something tells me that Novell's legacy Netware and NDS products earn them more money than anything linux-related, since those have large userbases, and were a huge cash cow for them back in the day. I could be totally wrong, of course.
  • 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! []
    • Proof or STFU (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 18, 2006 @03:59PM (#16898322)
      Q4. With this agreement, will Novell include Microsoft patented code in its contributions to the open source community?

      No. Novell will not change its development practices as a result of this agreement. It has always been our policy in all development, open source and proprietary, to stay away from code that infringes another's patents, and we will continue to develop software using these standard practices. If any of our code is found to infringe someone else's patents, we will try to find prior technology to invalidate the patents, rework the code to design around the infringement, or as a last resort remove the functionality.

      Novell is committed to protecting, preserving and promoting freedom for free and open source software. ce.html []
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Crayon Kid ( 700279 )
      Try as they might, they won't be able to poison all the packages in your regular Linux distro. It makes sense that they're going to concentrate on the high profile ones. And by high profile I mean those that pose the biggest threat to Microsoft. Open Office is one. Mono, Samba are other prime targets. Perhaps Apache as well, Firefox, and so on. Perhaps they'll even go for the kernel, GCC or core parts of GNU.

      These aren't knee-jerk reactions. I fear it is a long and carefully planned strategy.
    • by ( 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.
    • No, what has to be done is enforce a policy where the contributor takes full responsibility of their commited code. That the contributor basically says:

      1) that it has the copyright for all code it commits
      2) that a license for the code is granted
      3) that usage of all patents covering the code is granted

      There is probably some other legal stuff that I have no clue about that also has to be put in such an agreement. Certain projects already require such an agreement before allowing contributions, yes it
      • 1) that it has the copyright for all code it commits
        2) that a license for the code is granted
        3) that usage of all patents covering the code is granted

        Well, the GPL technically does number three. See:

        Finally, any free program is threatened constantly by software patents. We wish to avoid the danger that redistributors of a free program will individually obtain patent licenses, in effect making the program proprietary. To prevent this, we have made it clear that any patent must be licensed for everyo

    • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @08:41PM (#16900686) Journal
      Rejecting all OpenOffice patches by Novell effectively makes OpenOffice a Sun project. Last time I checked, 80% of new contributions came from Sun, 15%ish came from Novell, and the remaining 5% from all the other contributors (I think Red Hat came in at about 1.5%).

      The VBA code in OO.o isn't entirely new either. There was a presentation at Linux '05 by some Novell guys on the VBA code that they had written for OO.o, and they claimed then it was very close to supporting all the functions people actually used.

  • Ads (Score:4, Funny)

    by the linux geek ( 799780 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @03:43PM (#16898214)
    I found it vaguely amusing/disturbing that the ad I saw below the article was a Novell advertisement for "The Linux you've always wanted."

    I'll pass on MS-controlled Linux, thanks...
  • "Unfortunately, there's no easy way of identifying whether your distro supports the VBA interoperability apart from trying some VBA code."

    Great, now I don't don't know if I'm vulnerable until it's too late. How do I disable it? Is now the time for a Linux anti-virus?
    • > Is now the time for a Linux anti-virus? hehe I wonder if vrms will get more popular: it could be useful if it incorporates checks for potential problems with patented stuff. Lets' hear from Package: vrms (1.12) virtual Richard M. Stallman The vrms program will analyze the set of currently-installed packages on a Debian-based system, and report all of the packages from the non-free tree which are currently installed. Note that vrms is not limited to Debian systems only (which me
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ( 782137 )
        Virtual RMS? For fucks sake, we already have one real one, and that's bad enough!
  • 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.
    • > can we please try to distinguish between VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) and VBS (VBScript, I assume).

      Well but for potential patent problems affecting FOSS I bet there's no difference whatsoever between the two.
    • This one may be harmless. But how about the next one? Or the one that Novell sneaked in before the deal was announced?

      MS has only got to show that its code was introduced into a FOSS application once to discredit much of the effort that the community has put together over the years. If they can show that one piece of their code was used then they can start asking how many more pieces?
  • 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?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by infinityxi ( 266865 )
      In between Google bowel movements.
    • by Secrity ( 742221 )
      Since Novel started sucking on the MS tit.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by loconet ( 415875 )
      "Since when exactly does every little action by Novell employees deserve an article at Slashdot?"

      Exactly? I'd say 03:37 PM -- Thursday November 02 2006 []. The moment we learned Novell was about to sell its soul and add the community as desert.
  • Presumably the best defense against claims of stolen code is to do what the Linux kernel folks are doing and require contributors to certify that they have the right to provide the code. Here are the current rules [] for submitting code for the kernel, and here is the Developer's Certificate of Origin []. Significant contributions should also be well publicized so that anyone claiming infringment is forced to bring it up soon, before people come to rely on it. In this case, it would then be Novell's problem, not the community's, if Microsoft claims that the code is theirs.

  • by Fonce ( 635723 ) <msmunter@gmai l . c om> on Saturday November 18, 2006 @04:04PM (#16898366) Homepage
    Meddle not in the affairs of Microsoft, for you are crunchy and good with ketchup.
  • What happens? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @04:06PM (#16898390)
    All hell breaks loose for Novell, not OpenOffice. Presumably this is being done officially by them and so the blame would fall on Novell.
    • Exactly.

      The subsequent users of said code now can easily point to the person who put it in. At least it's documented. The best part is, anyone can take the code out. Even if they took you to court, you simply argue that you have already removed the code. (Shows that you mean to comply with the court's actions)

      All fud, no action.
  • 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.
  • Now I can run pretty much any visual basic program (one of the most used languages in the Real World) under linux and hence switch many people to linux, but people prefers to title it as "novell may be doing some dirty things"

    It's amazing how one of the most wonderful news I've heard in months can become FUD. Wake up: Patents already existed before the novell-MS pact. Microsoft has been able to sue companies for years. Getting VBA compatibility is a Good Thing. I only can thank Novell for this code.
    • by h4rm0ny ( 722443 )

      Well if Open Office starts using VBA macros routinely, then VBA becomes the de facto standard for these spreadsheet packages. That's bad in and of itself if you feel (as I do) that there are better languages. But it's even worse when you consider how this will work in practice. We will have a standard over which we have no control (it's Microsoft's), and which Open Office will always implement in an inferior way. Microsoft can always break compatibility with the addition of a few more bits and pieces as th
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by zCyl ( 14362 )

        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 capab

  • by Anonymous Coward
    A working solution for the problem:
    boycott Novell.

    Make them understand that we do not accept the deal they've made,
    regardless of whether it complies or not with GPLv2.

    For upstream people:
    reject their patches, regardless of the content.
    Reject their feature requests.
    Create new bug report state in trackers:
    "WAITING for submitter to cancel cancerous deal with Microsoft".

    For Novell management:
    cancel the deal with Microsoft and tell us how much you are sorry.

    For Novell engineers:
    protest with management, and if yo
  • Man. come on. One needs to be subtle when pulling a trick.

    2 days earlier novell gig, then 'linux owes us' 1 days ago, and now, this.

    Its TOO obvious to fool anyone, even supreme court judges who are totally inaware of i.t. technology.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by tannhaus ( 152710 )
      Read the article. This functionality has been available in Debian, Fedora Core, and Ubuntu already. SuSE is just finally adding it...a little behind the others. So, tell me again how this is Microsoft playing a distracting SuSE from patching so they're the last one to implement what may be an important feature to businesses?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by unity100 ( 970058 )
        come on.

        just yesterday ms (balmer ?) was able to say something like "linux owes us" just out of the blue,without any solid stuff around. so this wont be anything that will be exploitable by ms lawyers you say ?
        • just yesterday ms (balmer ?) was able to say something like "linux owes us" just out of the blue,without any solid stuff around. so this wont be anything that will be exploitable by ms lawyers you say ?

          MS can claim all they want but to make it stick they have to prove it first. Then IBM et alia can demand they show what lines infringe on MS IP. Even if it didn't end up like SCO, there may be a good possibility MS is violating the GPL or other OS licenses by having incorporated OS into MS products. Tha

          • by init100 ( 915886 )

            MS may be able to defend a couple different suits at the same tyme but their warchest could be quickly drained if a bunch of claims were broght against them.

            They had more than forty billion dollars in cash last time I looked, so I think a lot more than "a bunch of claims" need to be brought to drain that warchest.

  • 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 [])
    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 DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @04:40PM (#16898720) Journal
    Certainly Novells actions are bogus and not designed for the good of the OS community at all but we don't need to fear their code any more then code from any place else; Microsoft wants Linux out of the picture and is a fearce competitor in any market it participates in; especially is core markets like PC and micro server operating systems.

    Microsoft business is good sales are up but that is because the market is growing, others like Apple and Linux are takeing a part of the share M$ is used to haveing about 98% the writing on the wall says it won't stay that way unless something is done. Think about it we are rapidly approching the point where everyone has a PC or many and business have about as many as they know what to do with. Thats not to say people and orgainzations won't be always buying computer they will but it will be mostly a retire replace thing rather then a 1 + 1 = 2 like it has been the last 2 decades. Microsoft wants to keep 98% share. They know how to deal with traditional competitors. They can't deal with everyone and their brother producing different but mostly compatable platforms and more then the business modle IBM had around the PC could deal with the clone market. They sure can deal with RH and SUSE though. They are trying to play a patent game and ensure a finite number of traitional large corporate competition so they can do what they have always done; give away enough of their crack to get people hooked and at the same time starve the competition for revenue.

    If M$ can kill the Linux market outside of Novell watch for windows to be suddenly free(as in beer) and come with free as in beer support. M$ can give windows away; after all they have other products to sell for you to run on top of it. Most people will then see windows as cheak as suse not understadning that with suse they'd be getting all the other stuff like web,sql,office apps, to and pick windows because its familiar. That is what M$ wants; they want to be able to kill linux they way they killed Netscape, Netware and countless others. They can't manage that right now because with all sorts of basically not for profit distros, debian and small commecial distros that are selected by very specific people for specific reasons like slackware. There is no clear revenue stream to attack. The mass of people useing and developing the software remains big enough that it continues to improve and inovate to the point where it becomes dangerous to them and they cant stop it.

    Think about GNU/Linux is not quite but almost good enough to push replace windows in just about every desktop and server space it owns save a few without much pain. It does not need to be as good as windows just good enough and cheaper. Now even when those conditions are reached its still not going to be a big Linux title wave; in fact nothing at all will happen because people generally like the status quo. Ahh but what if a KILL APP was found something that you just can't do with windows but you could do easily with GNU/Linux. I don't know what that would be but at that point the war would be won over night. Windows would be a legacy platform like netware. That is what they fear.

    In the mean time though M$ played their cards wrong and so did Novel. Novel was thinking this little patent game with M$ could effectivly make them a Monopoly or part of a Oligopoly in the Linux market which while not huge would be better from their point of view then the current situation. Novel is wrong of couse because if it worked out that the developers would dry up. Nobody wants to write free code for Novel. They want to write code that the whole community can use. They do it because its fun to have your name on something that lots of people depend on. They do it because its a fun challenge and it produces a useful product for them and friends. They do it because they benifited from and OS project and feel they should give something back. They do it to show off their skills and make themsevels more marketable. They do it for all sorts of ot
  • 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.

    • Sounds like SuSE may have shot themselves in the foot.

      That's a start. Now they should do the honorable thing and shoot themselves in the head..
  • by kras ( 807696 )
    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.
  • They patented VB's "IsNot" operator. s_ms_patent/ []

    Sure this may be in other distros but Microsoft probably already considers those distros as in violation of their patents, now that it's in Suse, when they start raising a stink about this patent, people can have the option to switch to Suse.

    Microsoft is being extremely evil and Suse is just playing ball with them. I'm sure the developers at Suse justify this, who can blame them, without Microsoft's money they
  • 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.

    How is this a move in the "Linux owes us" game? OO.o isn't particular to Linux. OO.o itself may be running afoul of MS (and others') patents, but this has nothing to do with Linux.
  • I'm sure someone will tell me why this won't work but can't OpenOffice just send a mail/letter/fax to Microsoft with a polite question about the code.
    "We've recieved this piece of code and will include this into our software. If you see any problems with this, get back to us within 90 days or we will take your silence as an acceptance and a promise not to take any action against us, legal or otherwise". Or something like that.



  • I'm going to quote John Stewart at Crossfire on this one, aimed at Slashdot:
    Please, please, please... STOP. You're hurting us.

    We all know ignorance spurs fear. And granted, we should all somehow fear this Novell/MS deal. But a sensationalist headline like this, is not just F, it's not just U and it's not just D. It's a capital I, of Ignorance. PLEASE, if you're going to post something that is going to be read by thousands of people, at least try look into it before you slam a title like this.

    If you ac
  • So, Microsoft figures it's going to win by pissing off the geeks? *That* ought to be an amusing debacle.

    The public follows the geeks: it's part of the trickle-down effect. When the geeks decide they've put up with enough bullshit and that it's time to move to a real OS, Microsoft is going to go bye-bye.

    And frankly, I could not care less. Fuck Microsoft: it's been incompetent and lazy and evil for about ten years longer than it should have.

    Microsoft has jumped the shark.
  • 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, is not mostly Java. It's almost entirely C++.
    • 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 or #go-oo or one of the mailing lists and dive in.
  • by Epeeist ( 2682 ) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @05:05AM (#16902816) Homepage
    I am still running SUSE 10.1, there are some things I need to do before I can think about the change. However, I will be making it sooner than I anticipated.

    While running an update this morning I noticed that the "Mono implementation of ASP.NET" was being updated. Why the fsck should I need this on a desktop machine?

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