Novell Inc has maintained that it will not use its patent peace deal with Microsoft Corp to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt about rival distributions, and played down the threat Microsoft poses to the open source software industry.
The open source environment will remain open no matter who you take it from, Tom Francese, Novell’s VP of worldwide sales and president of EMEA told Computer Business Review. We are not going to say ‘take Linux because it is a safe bet’ we are going to say ‘take Linux because it is the best bet’.
Last week’s interoperability and patent peace deal saw Microsoft promise not to sue Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise customers for intellectual property infringement, but it made no such promises for other Linux distributions.
Indeed, Microsoft’s chief executive officer, Steve Ballmer, seemed to suggest Linux users were taking a risk with anything other than SUSE.
If people want to have patent peace and interoperability, they’ll look at Novell’s SUSE Linux, he said. If they make other choices, they have all of the compliance and intellectual property issues associated with that.
Francese played down the threat Microsoft poses to other Linux users, however. People have been somewhat concerned about Microsoft, this is something that hasn’t been put into play, he said. The question is who has Microsoft sued in the past.
Francese maintained that there was no threat of litigation on either side that brought Microsoft and Novell to together. The companies also maintained that no intellectual property license has changed hands, and that they are merely offering a covenant not to bring litigation against each other’s customers.
Given that there is no IP infringement, and no IP licenses have changed hands, it begs the questions: what exactly did Microsoft pay Novell $108m for and what exactly is Novell paying Microsoft at least $40m for?
Francese side-stepped that question but suggested there are more details behind the agreement that will emerge via filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The SEC will ask us to file all the details, and when you see that you’ll see everything. Those details will be forthcoming, he said, declining to elaborate.
He also admitted that he did not know the implications for derivative works were developers to make use of the SUSE Linux code base to create a new distribution.
Andrew Katz, partner with law firm Moorcrofts LLC this week told Computer Business Review that in his opinion Microsoft’s promise of patent protection would either be passed on to any derivative or Novell would be in breach of the GNU General Public License.
Francese confirmed that Novell had engaged the help of the Software Freedom Law Center, the group set up by Free Software Foundation general counsel, Eben Moglen, to confirm whether its patent agreement was in keeping with the GPL.
In the meantime, Francese maintained that the partnership with Microsoft will provide immediate benefits for customers beyond the technology, marketing and patent agreements. This brings the camps together, it’s going to be a more efficient process going forward, he said.
One of the last bastions of the industry is making a bold statement that open source is a way of life. That’s what this is all about, he added. Forget about interoperability and virtualization, it’s not about that, it’s about coming to the table to help solve a customer problem. Without [Microsoft] there before it was not a solvable problem.
Novell is also expecting to benefit, of course, with Francese stating that the deal was designed to take SUSE Linux Enterprise beyond its traditional customer base.
This does make us relevant in a significant way, he said. If you’re a CTO, CFO, or CIO and you’re taking something to the board with open source, I guarantee the board will be saying ‘have you looked at Novell’.