Open source advocate Bruce Perens has warned Novell Inc that it risks being left behind by open source progress unless it turns its back on its recent patent covenant with Microsoft Corp.
Waltham, Massachusetts-based Novell might have negotiated the deal with Microsoft for its SUSE Linux Enterprise users, but that has left Microsoft free to accuse the wider Linux user base of infringing its intellectual property.
There have already been calls from some open source users and developers to boycott Novell’s products, but perhaps more significantly for Novell, Perens has warned the company that Linux software licensing changes could leave it isolated if it does not renege on the Microsoft deal.
The very software that you sell is owned by parties who are now hostile to your company, wrote Perens, creator of the Open Source Definition and founder of the Open Source Initiative and Linux Standards Base, in a letter to Novell’s chief executive, Ron Hovsepian. The C Library, essential to run every program on your system, is the property of the Free Software Foundation, which will surely re-license that library to LGPL 3.
The FSF’s general counsel, Eben Moglen, is currently evaluating the Novell Microsoft patent deal to see if it is valid under the terms of the current GPL v2. He has not announced his conclusion but has already publicly stated that changes will be made to the forthcoming GPL v3 to ensure that such a selective patent peace deal cannot be repeated.
It will surely violate GPL version 3, he told CNNmoney.com. GPL version 3 will be adjusted so the effect of the current deal is that Microsoft will by giving away access to the very patents Microsoft is trying to assert.
While Linux creator Linus Torvalds has previously stated that the Linux kernel will remain on the GPL v2 license, much of the code that makes up a complete Linux distribution is owned by the FSF, which intends to re-license all its code to GPL v3 as soon as it is completed in early 2007.
In the face of these changes, Novell will probably be stuck with old versions of the software, under old licenses, with Novell sustaining the entire cost and burden of maintaining that software, Perens wrote, adding that Novell faces a choice of sticking with Microsoft and being left behind, or turning its back on the patent deal. There is really only one path out of this corner for Novell. Go on with your technical collaboration, and keep the money. But Novell must now direct Microsoft to refrain from granting covenants to Novell’s users unless they will apply to everyone equally.
Novell’s agreement with Microsoft saw the two companies collaborating on interoperability between Windows and SUSE Linux Enterprise, particularly in virtualized environments, and Microsoft purchasing $240m worth of SUSE Linux Enterprise support certificates to pass on to joint customers.
That side of the deal has the potential to be beneficial for everyone, but it is the patent peace covenant that has made SUSE Linux Enterprise Microsoft’s approved Linux distribution that has angered the wider community.
The deal saw Microsoft promise not to sue Novell Linux customers, openSUSE contributors, and unsalaried open source developers in return for at least $40m from Novell over five years. Novell has also promised not to sue Microsoft customers for patent infringement in return for an upfront payment of $108m.