Novell is loading Microsoft's gun

It is with regret that I urge all FOSS developers to treat anything Novell has contributed to the community as suspect, scrutinize any Novell contributions and purge them as deemed appropriate.

This threat is real, and it is not necessarily contingent upon whether or not Microsoft would actually sue customers for patent infringements. This is a classic case of posturing. Novell is leveraging its agreement with Microsoft in a way that harms all other Linux distributions and other FOSS projects. It is actively exploiting its unique position in ways that seem beneficial, but will pose risks to anyone but its own customers (and even their own customers are only protected for the next five years).

The agreement between Novell and Microsoft started with talks that began supposedly over six months ago. I do not find it coincidental that Novell recently contributed code to introduce Microsoft Excel VBA script compatibility in

This is what I consider to be "loading the gun". With this, and possibly other contributions (especially with respect to but not limited to Mono), Novell is seeding projects with code that may cause anyone but its own customers to fear Microsoft legal action. I urge project leaders and FOSS developers to reject this code.

No doubt some customers will view Microsoft compatibility enhancements as a positive move for Linux. They are not considering the long term consequences of providing compatibility Novell's way. There are other ways to solve the same problems without inserting Microsoft IP into FOSS. A well designed automatic VBA translator would provide the same benefits to, for instance, as Novell's VBA patches. The difference is that a translator would not insert Microsoft IP into

Bruce Perens wrote an open letter to Novell. Here is the open letter. I signed the Perens open letter with this comment:

Nicholas Petreley, Editor in Chief, Linux Journal, Freelance writer, analyst and consultant

Note from Nicholas Petreley: I urge everyone to purge their systems of anything related to Novell/SUSE. I also urge all FOSS developers to refuse to adopt anything contributed by Novell (such as the VBA compatibility code in Now that Novell has a virtual license to adopt Microsoft intellectual property without risk to its customers, it is a reasonable fear to assume that everything Novell produces or contributes is potentially tainted with Microsoft intellectual property. This perpetuates a substantial risk to all but Novell customers for the next five years, and may pose a substantial risk to all current FOSS adoption once this current agreement expires. Novell must either reverse its agreement or provide some other acceptable remedy before its products and/or contributions will be anything less than suspect.



Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

I don't think Novell had the

Wrinkle Reducer's picture

I don't think Novell had the community benefit in mind in the first place, but rather it's own. After all we're talking about a market with players that try to grab the bigest piece of it. I think the aim of this agreement was in the first place to become "the dominant predator" on linux world...

Article is 100% correct

IG's picture

This article is 100% correct. What we're seeing is those two brats at Ximian (who call themselves "Novell" these days) maneuvering to try to become the Linux monopolists they think they deserve to be. We already know they're fans of Microsoft (one of them is even a former Microsoft employee), and they've repeatedly pulled a bunch of crap in the past that's been harmful to Linux. Even things like their creation of the gnome/kde schism, and their introduction of Mono, show that they want Linux to become theirs, done their way, and they're willing to derail its progress as a whole.

It's time to consider all Ximian (aka "Novell") code to be tainted from an intellectual property perspective. If you've been foolish enough to load Mono, remove it. Evolution needs to go as well. If you're running SuSE Linux, it's time to switch. And don't even consider evaluating any of the vaporware they've got in the pipeline.

Yes you're right.

lg's picture

Novell integrates mixed IT environments, allowing people and technology to work as one. Yes you're right.

Mono, yes, but sadly, I still need Evolution

Anonymous's picture

I can get rid of Mono, no problem. But Evolution is the only way that I can access Exchange Server groupware functions at work without using MS LookOut. My bosses make it clear that I am to use the calendaring and Exchange public folders, too, not just email. No, the MCSE mail server admins won't turn on IMAP so I can use Thunderbird and KCalendar, and WebMail doesn't give me the groupware functionality. I suppose I could quit...but I have a mortgage. So Evolution it is--for now.

Is anybody working on an alternate Exchange Connector for, say, Thunderbird or KMail?


Nicholas Petreley's picture

I believe Kontact can work with Exchange. I haven't tried it, myself, but I seem to recall that was one of the primary goals of the Kolab group.

VMs folks.

William's picture

You can always go the route of VMs.
I am a Unix/Linux AND Windows admin. Since I am almost the sole person responsible for the Linux systems, I was allowed to load my office machine with Linux, and the company paid the cost of VMWare workstation. I run Linux as my OS but also have a Windows system running Office, and therefore have not problems with compatibility.
This solution also keeps the issue at had a "non-issue".

Get a clue

Anonymous's picture

Wow.....what a goofball kneejerk reaction which is surprising coming from someone like an "editor-in-chief". So MS paid Novell a bunch of money...why is this bad? Companies are supposed to make money. The bottom line is that Novell doesn't own Linux any more than MS does or Red Hat. I'll tell you what though...It is a good thing for Linux (all linux) when a CIO or other high level exec hears that Linux is more interoperable with the MS stuff and it will help the business. That is what it is all about and making money. Wake up and focus on making Linux more important to the business. That is what will decide who the winners are.

The reaction is measured and

Anonymous's picture

The reaction is measured and prudent. Companies are supposed to make money, so we should let Jeff Skilling go? Interoperability cannot be based on embedding proprietary code. I think you need to wake up and replace your child-like arguments with ones that address the very real problems with this unholy marriage.

Got a Clue

Anonymous's picture

You're little snide put down of anything pointed at M$ is only proof that M$ reads these pages too! Not a clever retort either!

RE: Get a clue

Anonymous's picture

you're 100% wrong... I bet M$ will take care that the CIO you are talking about will hear that NOVELL is more interoperable with the M$... Otherwise why M$ would buy few millions SuSE support coupons? Why not buy, let's say RedHat, or Debian?
Moreover, I don't think Novell had the community benefit in mind in the first place, but rather it's own. After all we're talking about a market with players that try to grab the bigest piece of it. I think the aim of this agreement was in the first place to become "the dominant predator" on lilnux world...
But, again i might be wrong (hopefully)...

Different Clue

D.C. Parris's picture

From one Editor-in-Chief to another, I do think it's possible for Novell to taint code, but I also think it unlikely. Then again, SCO is suing IBM for tainting Linux, so...

That said, I signed Perens' letter for a different reason. Sure, Novell supports the OIN, but then Hovsepian still pushes software patents. Thanks to Bruce for pointing that out. Novell has stabbed us in the back on software patents. Plain and simple.

Editors-in-Chief clueless ?

Anonymous's picture

Nokia is pro software patents in Europe, and uses free software. Amazon is a holder of rather strange patents and makes a few additional millions by using free software. What about Sun? Do they own not a single software patent?

But did Perens wrote an open letter to these companies? Did Petrely screem for checking the code contributions of these companies? And where have you been when the companies stabbed the community in the back?

Your so-called "reason" is just a lazy excuse for hanging the guy you can catch, instead of hanging the guy who's guilty.

Get a Clue & Take a Chill Pill

Brent's picture

Anonymous is right! For an editor and chief of a "respectable" Linux rag to speak like this is ridiculous. I have seen a few Novell advertisements in this magazine and I don't see any objections (perhaps this will change) to the money that Linux Journal has received from Novell from these ads. If any of Novell's contributions to OSS should be discarded, perhaps you should return the monies that Novell has paid you over the past few years for their adverstising.
Truth be told - the Novell/MS deal is good for Novell, good for MS, good for Linux and good for other OSS.
Get a clue and I expect a revised statement from the editor and chief

Keep expecting it.

Nicholas Petreley's picture

But don't hold your breath.

Linux Belongs To Microsoft

Javed's picture

Please read this story this is an interesting angle...

Very unfortunate

Anonymous's picture

This is a terrible development, because so much great stuff has come out of Novell, and from many people who now work for Novell.

The deal is pretty complicated, and I don't understand it.

I have to say that I simply don't believe that people from Novell are trying to inject MS IP into open source projects in a deliberately malicious fashion. I don't think that they could keep that conspiracy quiet, and I don't think that guys like Nat Friedman or Miguel de Icaza would go a along with it.

So it seems to me that a lot of the rhetoric here is a little overblown, and I would feel better about these discussions if they were rooted in enough civility to acknowledge what these guys have done for all of us.

But it seems possible to me that people from MS would see what those guys are doing, and feel that their actions might open up an angle of attack. I could definitely see that happening.

I don't think the guys from Novell are evil, so much as incompetent, and that they probably let the money cloud their judgment.

Mostly, because I don't understand the deal, I feel like I'm down in the subway playing three card monte. There's something going on, I have a bad feeling, but I don't know exactly what it is. And that's why I have to agree with the original post here, that says we have to move away from all of this great Novell tech.

We have to make survival and self-preservation the main goal here -- if there's a threat, we have to take it very seriously, and do whatever we can to stave it off. And unfortunately, I think that means walking away from Novell.

Patent listing

Nate B.'s picture

Isn't there a US law that requires products, sold in the US at least, must disclose the patents that cover them? Why isn't software sold with such a listing? If there really are patents covering any proprietary software that a given Free Software project emulates, then it seems to me that those patents must be disclosed up front. This idea of "submarine" patents is absurd and runs counter to my understanding of the patent system.

Sure, a patent grants a time limited monopoly on the implementation of an idea, but to receive that monopoly the inventor must make the details of the invention public. If the inventor does not want to disclose the details of the invention, then he should not be able to receive a patent. In the same way, closed source software should not be eligible for patent coverage. Any software covered by a patent must be publicly available for review and cannot be incorporated into a closed source program. In short, closed source programs should not be allowed to implement a patent.

I can think of no other way that makes software patents a less onerous entity.

P.S. Isn't there some way to log into this site? If I use my name, it says it is in use by a registered user, but I can find no obvious way to log in!

Patent notification

Dean Pannell (aka dinotrac)'s picture

This is actually very interesting. Infringement recovery requires that notice be given of a patent. That is why you see patent numbers stamped on products, packages, etc.

Microsoft might argue that they are giving Linux users notice by saying Linux infringes on their patents, but (I am not a patent lawyer and have not looked up the case law on this) I don't think that is sufficient to constitute notice.

So.. presuming Microsoft's patents really are being infringed, I would presume that they want to recover damages and will make public what patents are involved.

My guess is that they've got some junk patents -- granted because the PTO is horrible -- worse than horrible -- when it comes to software.

Junk patents are a funny value. They actually have a great deal of value because of the way patents are enforced. So long as the people you threatened are uninclined to fight you, you can extract money. If somebody challenges you on a junk patent, you're kind of screwed. You can back down, in which case the patent begins losing its value. If, on the other hand, you fight and the other guys mounts a competent defense that you patent is invalid -- it's lost forever.

Bad Standing Novell

goblin's picture

In a recent discussion I defended the Novell/Microsoft deal (see the discussion of the LJ article "A five year deal with Microsoft to dump Novell/SUSE"). I believe that Free Software also is about the freedom to do business.

Now that Ballmer clearly claims that Linux infringes Microsoft patents (not backing his claims with proof), and that MS might sue Linux users based on this claim, I can't defend this deal anymore, although I still think that the freedom built into Free Software also is freedom to do business.

Ballmers claims now have proven that this deal is not strictly business, and certainly not about freedom.
It's harassment and extortion.

I'm also convinced that Novell had the best motives for entering this deal, but they have proven they now are merely a tool in this harassment plot by MS.

"Bad Standing" Novell is the only right thing to do, untill Novell starts to do the right thing, namely leave this deadly embrace by Microsoft.

How they do it, I don't care - it's their mess, they should figure it out.

Now Evolution is in jepoardy, too

Anonymous's picture

This really sucks, because, since I work in a Microsoft shop, I really need something like Evolution to avoid having to use MS Windows. Not only is Mono under threat, but Evolution likewise could now be. Now Novell/Microsoft are trying to kill off the *other* MS interoperability tool,, with this ridiculous patent crap.

Let's hope that the EU firmly resists any such "software patent" nonsense.


Play Action Games's picture

EU is so very different to the US in their mentality. Let's hope they see through this

i think its was very

sinau's picture

i think its was very different
especially ID

There are many reasons to M$

EdLam's picture

There are many reasons to M$ want to deal with Novel or some other well positioned and with a big market share' Linux company.

But, let us be "crystal clear" on the perspective of, whatever the angle we look, M$ first intent is to profit, to get the maximun of knowledge about the core of the Lin OS and to input all sort of junk and proprietary code on Suse.

No doubt folks, he come in this to win and Novel unfortunately will can do nothing to resist.

Who are in this market for 15 years or more and suffer with bugs bugs and more bugs, since PC cames out of the box, with their "windows" had seems those deals and things like that, couple of times. I can feel a "Deja Vu" on air!!!

Fortunately, we have other great Lin distributions. And people more concerned on remains on the right side.


When Emotion Trumps Fact and Reason ...

Erik Sorenson's picture

1. Which patents has Novell exposed the Linux community to through its agreement with Microsoft? Answer: None. Messrs. Petreley and Perens offer not one example nor shred of evidence to back up their irrational claims.

2. What terms of the GPL has Novell or Microsoft broken? Answer: None. Messrs. Petreley and Perens offer not one example nor shred of evidence to back up their irrational claims.

3. What open source development has the Novell and Microsoft agreement hindered, impacted or closed down? Answer: None. Messrs. Petreley and Perens offer not one example nor shred of evidence to back up their irrational claims.

I'm getting just a little sick and tired of Perens and FOSS throwing FUD and unfounded/unsupported aspersions all around the blogsphere on the agreement. It's Perens who dumped an open source project with no apologies to the people who contributed and supported his (in hindsight) hare-brained sceme for a "really free/open" server distribution based off Debian ... in which he planned to make some money offering support. Cast not stones into thy own glass house, Bruce.

And for Petreley? I don't know how such a supposedly intelligent and knowlegeable person could go on "suicide watch" and get so bent out of shape over this issue.

I have used Suse/OpenSuse since V7, and currently run 3 servers with openSuSE 10.1 ... and I will continue to do so despite these shrill calls for the expulsion of Novell from the planet, and other firms that want to make some money off Linux support and application. If making a profit is "bad" in Perens' eyes, or holding patents, then he sure needs to grow up or go to a Business 101 course. Or stop making a living off open source himself ... past, present and future. Everyone knows that it's impossible to suck and blow at the same time.

Keep to the point

johnboy68's picture

I have been patiently reading all I can on this subject to wait to see where I fall in this debate and so far I am still "out there".

I have somewhat of a vested interest here. I am an MCSE (since 1998) and a CNE (since 1998) and work in a "MS" shop. I just starting using Linux the past two years and I was very excited when Novell took over Suse. I thought "yes! Novell is trying to get away from it's dependency on MS as a desktop and it could only help it's server development".

But now I think I might have been wrong...

The only thing I know right now is that both Novell and Microsoft have claimed that one of the #1 reasons for this deal is "to not sue for IP/copyright infringement". That is enough for me to error on the side of caution. What other conclusion can be made? I don't know.

I'm still trying to keeping an open mind...


Preetinder's picture

"The only thing I know right now is that both Novell and Microsoft have claimed that one of the #1 reasons for this deal is "to not sue for IP/copyright infringement". That is enough for me to error on the side of caution. What other conclusion can be made? I don't know."

I agree with you 100%.

Concerns of potential threat... not claims of existing damage

Koen's picture

Well, neither Novell or Microsoft are being terribly open about the patent and IP issues. I'm not sure why you're asking Petreley and Perens to do this on their behalf (my apologies if your post was meant to be an example of "when emotion trumps fact and reason", sometimes I'm a little slow picking up on humour and I'm not really sure if you're being serious or facetious... again, my apologies).

I think the point is more the possibility of Microsoft using Novell in the future as a way of planting material that they can later use to sue people. They're not saying that this already happened, although some people seem to be worried that it might have happened and we don't know about it. (and some posters seem to be convinced that it already happened)

Profit is a part of doing business. The concern here is about profit being made in an ethical way that respects the free market's freedom.

Traitor Suse

Anonymous's picture

I don't understand this, if Suse has or will post code that is proprietary in their linux distro, can't the consumer sue the company, even though it is free? It would seem that if I bought a Suzuki Aerio and they used one of the patents from BMW, and BMW sued me, that I should be allowed to sue Suzuki. Maybe I am being naive

Your money or your life

Nicholas Petreley's picture

Yes, profit is part of doing business. And I have absolutely nothing against making money. I don't even think proprietary software is a bad thing, in itself.

My concerns here are the ulterior motives of Microsoft. It is obvious Microsoft wants to either control FOSS in such a way as to neutralize it as a threat, or just collect money off Linux. The idea is to kill FOSS as competition, if possible. If not, then sit back and collect racketeering money off sales of FOSS based on the threat of a lawsuit.

Neither outcome is good for Linux or FOSS, and I'd love to see this strategy foiled now, before it gets too far.

Common Sense

Killa K's picture

When things like this happen I like to look at the facts and search for the common sense among things.

1st. Things we know. M$ makes its money not off of servers, but off its Office and Windows OS product. Last I heard this supported the major portion of the company.

2nd. Bill Gates from day 1 has always been all about IP. He has said it over and over again. Which in turn means the company is all about it as well.

3rd. Novell is not as popular as it used to be. Novell had the market share server wise and it has got to be dropping. (I am not sure how accurate I am on this so don't quote me. Just a guess) In my experience though the number of Novell servers is dropping.

4th. Conclusion. Knowing that M$ is a machine and they make the most money off of Office and thier OS this is what they are trying to hold on to. Plain and simple. If Linux were to be more of a desktop system and Office Application system as well, M$ would sue to hold on to its precious gold mine. Who wouldn't? I think we all can agree that Linux is growing. Not only as a server system but as a Desktop as well. So with that in mind of course M$ is trying to place its hook into which ever mouth will open wide enough to swallow it. Our goal is to use common sense and protect the Open Source System. Make no mistakes what M$ is after, as they have never done anything other than what they have been doing. Buying out competitors and silencing competition.

Your money or your life

Nicholas Petreley's picture



Ed2's picture


I didn't want to be the "Truth Owner", but...

Who can remember OS/2, Corel, Lotus 123, Word Perfect, Primavera, etc, etc, etc.. We can remember several cases like these, aren't.

BTW, I do not think profit as a wrong thing too. But, as said upper, "... in an ethic way...". C'mon, ethic and M$, like water and oil.


What is the proof that

kahf's picture

What is the proof that Novell introduced code is violating MS patents? Novell is simply offering its customers peace of mind. If there is any piece of code in Linux violating Microsoft or any some other party's patents, I am sure the injured party will sue. It does not matter who the contributor was, Novell or some other party. All contributed code is and should be assumed free of patent problems unless someone makes a claim to the contrary. If a piece of code is proved to violate a patent, the code should be removed or rewritten to avoid the patent. Removing Mono or some other code without having any proof is just foolish.

[QUOTE]If a piece of code is

G Fernandes's picture

[QUOTE]If a piece of code is proved to violate a patent, the code should be removed or rewritten to avoid the patent[/QUOTE]

You can not remove/rewrite code that infringes a software patent as it stands at the minute.

This is because of the infinite stupidity if the USPTO. As it stands now, the USPTO has countless gems of stupidity that patent IDEAS - not ALGORITHMS or IMPLEMENTATIONS.

That being the case, it is easy to envisage an idea - e.g. "sharing files across a network of computers" - that is patented by our famously stupid USPTO.

This guarantees that any implementation of that idea will violate said patent.

While we all may consider this exceedingly stupid, this is the state of the art with our incredibly stupid USPTO.

removing mono

Anonymous's picture

What happens when the agreement expires, and in the meantime mono apps have become mission-critical? The potential difficulty of creating workarounds for any patent issues is an unknown. Nor do many in the FOSS community trust Microsoft not to be advancing an attack agenda. Certainly they've been disingenuous about this: if they wanted better interoperability, they would be supporting the Samba Team. They would also not be in legal trouble again in the EU over this very issue.

At this point developing mono apps means accepting more risk.

Removing Mono and SUSE

Nicholas Petreley's picture

It's not foolish to ditch Mono, SUSE and other code by Novell. Doing so forces Microsoft's hand. If everyone ditches everything from Novell, Microsoft has no choice but to put up or shut up with respect to patents.

If there are no patent infringements then Microsoft is simply engaging in racketeering and getting away with it because Novell didn't have the guts to say no, and make them put up or shut up. We would essentially be accessories to this crime by accepting the deal and paying the protection money by buying Novell products.

Way too emotional

Anonymous's picture

C'mon editor-in-chief, Surely you realize how silly you sound. You are referring to publicly traded companies with these phrases:

"Didn't have the guts", "put up or shut up", "accessories to this crime"

I can tell you with absolute certainty these type of emotions play no part in making decisions at an enterprise level.

Also, be careful with letting your emotions get the best of you. Starting a witchunt against Novell is only good for Microsoft. Novell has contributed an insane amount of code to the community and losing Novell would only hurt Linux and help microsoft.

Even Linus has said let's take a wait and see approach...but, I suppose you know better right?

Insane amounts? Come on!

G Fernandes's picture

[QUOTE]Novell has contributed an insane amount of code to the community and losing Novell would only hurt Linux and help microsoft.[/QUOTE]

O come on now! More than Red Hat? More than the FSF? More than Sun's Java stack?

Way too emotional

Greg Metcalfe's picture

"I can tell you with absolute certainty these type of emotions play no part in making decisions at an enterprise level."

But perhaps they should--as in knowing the direction that the tide is flowing, at any rate. Many corporate Cx0 types were slow to adopt. 'Nobody ever got fired for buying Microsoft' was the mantra.

Now, the question has become, "What do you know that Amazon, AMD, various government orgs, etc., don't?" You might also consider that where speed and massive scalability is important (think telecomm, stock exchanges, major ISP mail systems such as the Baby Bells) you never see Microsoft. It's all Linux or proprietary Unix.

"Even Linus has said let's take a wait and see approach...but, I suppose you know better right?"

He actually may know better. It depends upon what you want out of Linux. Torvalds has taken some decisions that haven't been popular--see references to his take on version control. As far as random quotes go, he's also posted text saying, "It's not as if everybody suddenly has started trusting Microsoft, so I suspect the debate over whether this is Microsoft cozying up to people in order to more easily slit their throats in the night will go on for some time."

At some level, this probably boils down to whether you subscribe to a Stallman/Perens belief system, or have a more Torvalds (and, God help us) Raymond viewpoint. I've long regarded Stallman as, in many ways, his own worst enemy. But the GPL is all about giving you rights, while proprietary licenses are all about restricting them. To me, this reached a pinnacle when proprietary database vendor EULAs restricted the abilities of reviewers to publish benchmarks.

We're never going to get ground truth out of modern multinational corporations. Their reasons are their own, and the truth is never going to come out--any public statements will be in carefully controlled press releases. As you said, these are publicly traded companies.

But I'm betting that there's a lot of concern about some very obvious strong-arm tactics. IMHO, over the five year life of the Novell/Microsoft agreement, Novell will crater.

M$, SUSE, Novell

Anonymous's picture

Once upon a time I administrated a farm of Novell servers.
Corporate out voted me and we migrated to M$. What Holly Night Mare!
I finally left the company as these piles of junk were just not manageable and the finger was pointed at the IT dept and myself.
Never mind the whole of the Engineering Dept. and manufacturing were using various UNIX systems with no problems.
I have since built several ISP's using various forms of Linux.
I ran SUSE for a while but got tired of the German.
Then Novell bought it.
I got rid of it.
I still use Linux for servers,firewalls etc.
All my desktops are also Linux.
I don't need M$ any more. What a relief and what a break from the incessant break downs.
Problem,I still use Evolution but as of tonight I'm working on a solution to that.
Also for those of you who brag about being an MCSE I can tell you simply that if I receive a resume with MCSE on it I file it in the oval file.
Did you ever look at that stupid test?
Holly Moly who would want someone with this on their resume.
What ever happened to the Association of Engineering who used to sue people for using Engineer, Engineers, Engineering in their title, company name etc that didn't have a real honest to god degree in engineering on staff?
These MCSE's don't even know what an engineer is.

Not going to ever use M$ or Novell again.
Evolution is on the way out.
Too bad I actually like it.

By the way why would I want to use a system that I see reports from my firewall of over 3000 attempts to "stack over run" etc.
That's M$ folk and I'm talking about only one IP address that's being hit on every day to break M$ over 3000 times.
It's easy to break it I don't need it!