Why Novell Must Not Crash and Burn

Not since SCO has there been a company so reviled by the open source community as Novell following its deal with Microsoft. Already there are some clear signs of the negative effects of that anger: senior coders have left the company; Novell has posted a loss for the most recent quarter; and there are calls for a boycott of Novell products – to say nothing of imminent changes to the GNU GPL that might well nullify the entire Novell-Microsoft deal. Some people are rubbing their hands in glee at the thought of Novell crashing and burning completely, but such a development could actually turn out to be one of the worst things to happen to free software.

One reason why Novell has had so much vitriol heaped upon it is that until that deal with Microsoft, it seemed to be a company that really got open source. After clinging on too long to its fading NetWare product – and resisting open standards in the shape of TCP/IP – it started to get serious about open source. In August 2003 it bought Ximian, the company founded by Miguel de Icaza and Nat Friedman, and then the leading European distribution, SuSE, Red Hat's main rival. This seemed to establish Novell as one of the top two open source companies, with good prospects of profiting nicely from the burgeoning business use of free software.

Novell's finest hour was when SCO took the decision in March 2003 to sue IBM:

The SCO Group, the owner of the UNIX operating system, announced today that it has filed legal action against IBM in the State Court of Utah, for misappropriation of trade secrets, tortious interference, unfair competition and breach of contract. The complaint alleges that IBM made concentrated efforts to improperly destroy the economic value of UNIX, particularly UNIX on Intel, to benefit IBM's new Linux services business.


In 1995, SCO purchased the rights and ownership of UNIX and UnixWare that had been originally owned by AT&T. This included source code, source documentation, software development contracts, licenses and other intellectual property that pertained to UNIX-related business. SCO became the successor in interest to the UNIX software licenses originally licensed by AT&T Bell Laboratories to all UNIX distributors, including HP, IBM, Silicon Graphics, Sun Microsystems, and many others.

SCO's action was based on its purchase of “the rights and ownership of UNIX and UnixWare



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One reason why Novell has

ceejay2005's picture

One reason why Novell has had so much vitriol heaped upon it is that until that deal with Microsoft, it seemed to be a company that really got open source. After clinging on too long to its fading NetWare product – and resisting open standards in the shape of TCP/IP – it started to get serious about open source. In August 2003 it bought Ximian, the company founded by Miguel de Icaza and Nat Friedman, and then the leading European distribution, SuSE, Red Hat's main rival. This seemed to establish Novell as one of the top two open source companies, with good prospects of profiting nicely from the burgeoning business use of free software. Best Carpet Cleaning Services

I believe that the concept

Link7881's picture

I believe that the concept was presented to Novell under NDA last 2 years ago. Astrum shared with Novell executives the plan that at the end of the day and would map 8 of the PCI requirements to the appliance and all Novell products could sit on top.

Carpet Cleaning Service


Wildhair's picture

It is sad that it seems so few FOSS people realize what being pragmatic is. Unlike RH, Novell was a commercial company with products of its own and tons of patents. Its entry into the Linux market as been both a boon to it and to the community. Its move with Microsoft was pragmatic from a stock holder view point and the customer. RH on the other hand was based from the git go on FOSS and did not have any prior track record or even stock holders or customers to please from any legacy era so they can point fingers if they want. Novell on the other hand did have all those things.

I've been using Linux since 1995 and using Suse since 1997. Although I was not initially pleased with the Novell purchase, it has proven itself solid and it is still one of the best distributions around.

I sincerely doubt it was ever Novells intentions to cast any doubt on the legit status of FOSS code, it was indeed because their many customers probably did want some type of code sharing going on to have better interoperability. Leave it to Ballmer and some others to cast the doubt. Considering their background of FUD, I am surprised that so many in the FOSS community considered it that bad. Not everyone is like RMS nor can they afford to be.

Linux will continue to move forward by being as pragmatic as Novell and Linus, not banshee like entities such as RMS who turn off more people than he turns on. This knee jerk business of condemning Novell seems quite childlike to me. Oh, I will take my toys and go home because I can't get EXACTLY what I want WHEN I want it.

While everyone is busy condeming Novell very few have thought about what the effect on Microsoft of being a Linux distributer can do. Turnabout is fair play :)

Quite honestly I will continue to recommend Suse and Novell products any day over RH and others in part due to the fact they have shown themselves pragmatic enough to care about their customers. The remainder of the pack can do what they want to sell into mixed shops, but only one distributer appears to care what happens and realize that Windows is not going to be wished away today or even tomorrow. In 15 years perhaps. But not now. And attempting to kick Novell for its efforts to help its customers is little more than willful blindness on the part of a large number of people and does little to make Linux better or even better known.

And for FWIW, I have never owned a MS product since the first computer I got with MSDOS 1.0 on it. It was DRDOS, OS/2 and then Linux. I own no stock in either company either. I have worked in IT for 20+ years and religion over software is something only initial tyros get worked up over. I just want my stuff to work and to hell with the politics of the matter.

RMS is pragmatic.

Anonymous's picture

The summary states: "Already there are some clear signs of the negative effects of that anger: senior coders have left the company; Novell has posted a loss for the most recent quarter; and there are calls for a boycott of Novell products..."

How can you say change would have been good for stockholders it it bears these consequences? In retrospect it made staff leave and consumers boycott, so it's a bad move for stockholders and a really pragmatic person would have factored those consequences in.

It's like saying ferrari should run on diesel engines and save fuel. You call that pragmatic? i call that a potential disaster.

The most pragmatic stance is owning the software you base your infrastructure on, fullstop.

Then you should learn what "pragmatic" really means

Sum Yung Gai's picture

The problem with your argument is that you don't understand what true pragmatism is. True pragmatism is insisting on your rights not being trampled on by the likes of King George of England, the British Gov't and East India Company, the US Government's legally sanctioned race prejudice, Microsoft and Apple Computer, and many others like them. These were opposed by freedom fighters (e. g. Geo. Washington, Gandhi, MLK Jr., RMS) who understood the pragmatism of freedom. They understood that if you *don't* stand up for freedom, you're looking at the Soviet Union or North Korea. Would you consider that a "pragmatic" end result? I sure wouldn't.

And speaking of religion, you apparently don't understand what that word means, either. Religion, by definition, concerns some non-corporeal entity or entities (gods and such). Standing up for one's freedom doesn't require worship of such an entity, but rather simple strength of character. If you want to see "religion" in software, you should go to Microsoft's campus. I worked there. MS Windows isn't a product; it's a religion, and if you're even _suspected_ of "blasphemy", then you have BIIIIIG problems. Apple Computer is no different, either; the infamous "Cult of Mac" is a case in point.

The most truly pragmatic thing that we can do is to stand up for our freedom. If you want to use SuSE Linux, then go ahead, as you have the right (until Microsoft pulls it from you), but I won't touch SuSE. If I do, then I'm sealing my own patent-encumbered fate. If you depend on binary blobs in your GNU/Linux distribution, then what happens when the vendor decides to stop supporting the blob? Oops, that Blu-Ray disk drive that you backed *everything* up to just stopped working with your computer after you did your security patches? Aww...too bad...if only you'd been truly pragmatic and insisted on media without DRM encumbrances....

The FSF is not "taking its toys and going home." Even if it did want to (which it doesn't), it couldn't; the GPL doesn't allow it. Quite the contrary; if you're using *any* version of GNU/Linux or any part of it, then you already know how false your statement regarding that is. I assume that, with it, you were referring to the upcoming GPL v3. If you were, then the GPL v3 is, on the contrary, making it far less possible for the likes of Microsoft to take *our* toys and go home. The BSD license, as Apple and other proprietary software companies have repeatedly shown, does not protect us from that problem. If you or anyone else has a problem with that, then nobody is forcing you to use GPL'd code. You're free to write your own or use someone else's.

So, please, start being truly pragmatic and get behind GPL v3. The Free Software movement, with all of its political ideals, is why you have your SuSE Linux in the first place. Talk about pragmatic! You would do well not to forget that.

We cant accapt any patches from Novell

Markitect's picture

The biggest threat to Linux is if the community continues to accept patches from Novell. Under the new agreement Novell is free to code that does violate Microsoft's patents. This may open other distribution to actual legally based law suits.

I hope Novell is not stupid enough to do this because if they did, then when the agreement expires they would be forced to re-negotiate the agreement at much less favorable terms.

GPLv3 will help, but you're still right

Anonymous's picture

Until this patent provision is nixed, then you're correct. We know that any code on which the FSF owns copyright will be relicensed under the GPL v3. The Samba team has already made clear its desire to do likewise.

But will the GNOME or KDE teams do it? I sure hope that they do. I have a very specific reason why I hope that the GNOME team does so--the Evolution mail client. In order for me to be able to use a Free Software platform at work, I have to be able to talk to our MS Exchange Servers at work, including all the calendaring stuff. Evolution allows me to do that. Were Evolution to go GPL v3, then Novell would have an issue...IF they have had to assign copyright to the FSF for any of their contributions, as the FSF generally does require for the GNU Project (of which GNOME is a part). I don't know if this copyright assignment has happened in GNOME's case, though.

HOWEVER...*if* GNOME does go GPL v3--which, of course, Novell desperately wants to prevent, since it bought Ximian--then we should change our stance and accept every single patch that Novell offers. Why? Because it then binds Microsoft, too.

Evolution is indeed owned by Novell

Anonymous's picture

Sorry, bro, the copyright for Evolution was indeed owned by Ximian. That means that Evolution likely will never go to GPL v3, because Novell won't let it due to its deal w/ the Devil. Our only hope is that the licensing for the source code says "GPL v2 or, at your option, any later version." That would allow us to fork it if we needed.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be...

Sunit Das's picture

In the trunk of the current source tree, the "shell/main.c" starts with:

/* main.c
* Copyright (C) 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 Ximian, Inc.
* This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or
* modify it under the terms of version 2 of the GNU General Public
* License as published by the Free Software Foundation.

The root directory of the source tree contains the 'COPYING' file that traditionally contains the GPL under which they are licensing their release. This 'COPYING' file is from GPL v2, and clause 9 states the usual:

9. The Free Software Foundation may publish revised and/or new versions
of the General Public License from time to time. Such new versions will
be similar in spirit to the present version, but may differ in detail to
address new problems or concerns.

Each version is given a distinguishing version number. If the Program
specifies a version number of this License which applies to it and "any
later version", you have the option of following the terms and conditions
either of that version or of any later version published by the Free
Software Foundation. If the Program does not specify a version number of
this License, you may choose any version ever published by the Free Software

So, it appears that the simple-fork approach may not apply here. Obviously, this is just one source file out of (probably) hundreds, but it seems certain that at least parts of the Gnome's SVN trunk copy of Evolution do not allow for future alternate licensing.

Anyone dev involved in the project (or any other Novell/Ximian sponsored project similarly licensed) feel like chiming in here?

Let Novell crash and burn

Anonymous's picture

On the contrary, let Novell crash and burn. If they do, then it's because they ticked off their suppliers (FOSS devs), their customers, or both. Companies are born and then die all the time for making stupid business mistakes like that. It's called "market forces at work."

I actually hope that (after SCO's dead, of course) Novell *does* join the string of carcasses that have been Microsoft's "partners" throughout the years. It'll remind everyone else of something really important to remember:


Hell, they seem bent on looking for people to step on. Hey Mr. Hovsepian: you sup with the devil, you get burned, pure and simple. And you Mac-heads, don't even start--if Apple were in Microsoft's position, Apple'd be just as bad, if not worse.

SUSE's tainted now. Stay away from SUSE. Go to any Linux *BUT* SUSE (CentOS is a good choice, so's Debian, so's RHEL). Why? SUSE decided not to dance with the one that brung her (the F/OSS development community).

I don't think Novell is in

Saby-user242's picture

I don't think Novell is in danger of going out of business any time soon, and certainly not before the SYS-V patents expire. (I'm sure the linux kernel doesn't even copy such patents.)

The bigger issue that should be looked at by the community, is whether or not such an intrusive license like the GPL v3 is really what is needed to make open source software more inclusive, or more exclusive. I think it will lead to a more exclusive development community, and you won't have large companies even touching GPL v3 stuff, because it is so prohibitive to how they can use it.

The kernel itself, as Linus has stated will never be put under GPL v3. Other software probably will be though. If Gnome is put under it, do you think Novell will continue to develop Ximian for Gnome or switch development over to KDE, which under trolltech has a MUCH more flexible licensing system?

This is something every Free Software coder should be worried about. Don't let FSF and GNU's politics kill the FS movement.

GPLV3 is not restrictive

Carl Hilton Jones's picture

You've obviously never read one of Microsoft's licenses! GPLV3 is *not* restrictive compared to *any* commercial license. GPLV3 puts conditions on copying. Most commercial licenses restrict all copying altogether. How can that be less restrictive?

Good point

Anonymous's picture

That goes for Apple's licenses, too, on every version of Mac OS ever made. Same for Cisco IOS...and Intuit...and Oracle...and Sony...and with several of these examples, there are actually provisions in their respective licenses that explicitly permit them to "phone home."

You wanna see restrictive? Here you go:


Now, *that's* restrictive.

The free software movement

Anonymous's picture

>Don't let FSF and GNU's politics kill the FS movement.

Don't let what started the movement of making software free kill the movement? This makes no sense to me.

The FSF indeed has many faults, but I don't see how their _politics_ are any different than what was there at the very start. It is these very politics--namely the promotion of the "four freedoms"--that started the movement.

What I find disturbing is not any crashing and burning of Novell, but the _dependence_ on Novell as some kind of free software savior. News flash: they use it like any other company, as a way to make or save money.

Finally, don't you realize that the FSF announced yesterday a revised GPLv3 draft that lets Novell off the hook? Is there something about the four freedoms that incompatible with Novell's future plans?

Maybe I am missing the point, but

Joe Matthews's picture

I think all of what is being discussed is just a waste of everyone's time, no matter how good you feel for voiceing your opinion that your a member of the free software movment as a coder or just a user open source OS's and other software. At the heart of the matter is the concept and practice of ownership which itself has many other human traits linked to it, like recognition, the need to make a buck to feed oneself, so and so forth. I think, until we remove the concept of ownership from our consciousness and therefore our daily lives, then nothing can truly be free, no matter how many iterations of documents like GPL are written to work around the problem of ownership.

Not so

Martin's picture

The GPL doesn't work around ownership at all. it isn't some hippy convent bent on destroying the capitalists dream. It uses copyrights (ownership) to set forth rules in which businesses may use someone elses work. this doesn't get around ownership, it IS ownership.

When I write code for the Linux kernel I DO NOT expect to be called a free-loader by Microsoft or Novell because they feel hurt that they aren't given the permission to abuse my work. how dare they think that I'm here developing free software and there won't be rules about how it can be distributed.

Some people have their head stuck up their bum if they think community developers owe anything to big business. Novell will use software it didn't write under the rules of the GPLv3 or it can write it's own. and that IS fair.

Novell´s support to the opensource is great !

werner kreiner's picture

didn´t you know Mr. Editor that Novell support the opensource community within the follow development projects :

- OpenSuse
- Gnome desktop
- KDE desktop
- Evolution mail client
- Novell messanger
- Novell UDDI Server V3
- Novell Webmail

additional, they are owner of Unix and therfore all guys who tell that Novell is a bad company should look to find other who invest as much as Novell did, the last 2 years !

and sure Mr. Editor, did you know that Novell has had his own Linux project long time before other like RedHat or SCO was avaible ! thoose Linux guys from Novell created later the Caldera company (now SCO)

take it serious that Novell support their customers and provide them them enterprise solutions and patent rights (now together with Microsoft) and what should be the bad item here ?

think about it Mr. Editor, before you shot to serious companies.

Time to worry about Mono in Gnome?

Anonymous's picture

Precisely. Isn't it time to be concerned about Mono creeping into Gnome Desktop?

With Mono closely mimicking .Net, and Microsoft's threats of patent strikes, isn't Gnome running a serious risk here?

Pulling the carpet under Gnome would completely destabilize the Linux desktop.

There is still XFCE, KDE,

Anonymous's picture

There is still XFCE, KDE, Enlightenment...and so on!

It is NOT illegal to Reverse Engineer.

So if you make something, I can buy it, take it home, and make one just like it. Kinda like cereal or cars or homes, computers; BEER!

They were doing well until Microsoft-Novell *patent* deal

Sum Yung Gai's picture

The Microsoft-Novell patent deal is what ticked us off. I don't have any SuSE Linux anymore, and I won't use SuSE (no, I don't use MS Windows, either). Novell, not the community, shot Novell in the leg when it chose to sign on for that patent agreement. I was all for Novell and SuSE Linux before they did this, exactly because of the contributions that you noted above. But Benedict Arnold, too, made great contributions to the American Revolutionary army (especially the Battle of Saratoga) and, therefore, the very existence of my country, before he turned traitor. A traitor is a traitor.

Could Novell fix this? Yes! It's not (yet) too late. All it needs to do is end the patent part of the deal with Microsoft and never, *ever* make that kind of mistake again. Were they to do this, it'd be accepted back.

You mention supporting customers. Any company that wants to be in business supports their customers...for a fee. Microsoft does this (though their "support" isn't nearly as good as it was 10-12 years ago), Red Hat does this, Sun does this, and I'm sure Novell does this. That's irrelevant to the threat that Novell put us under with this patent deal with Microsoft. Speaking of Red Hat, some folks there can indeed be kinda arrogant--I've met several--but damn it, Red Hat doesn't turn traitor! That's why I back them, despite that bit of arrogance.

Crash. Burn. Repeat.

Anonymous's picture

Unfortunately, the only thing Novell has ever been good at is crashing and burning.

Yeah. They have been quite

Bjorn Solstad's picture

Yeah. They have been quite good at it for years. I wonder how they manage to drag themselves up from the gutter as many times as they have?

nothing to do with Linux

Anonymous's picture

"old patents and copyrights that just happen to underpin the entire GNU/Linux operating system "

Eh? And what would those be? All those expired or nearly-expired SYS-V patents? What copyrights? Linux is not plagiarized Unix. Those don't have squat to do with Linux.

How are these being used to defend Free Software? I hope you're not referring to SCO's shenanigans. SCO is failing to establish that they have grounds for a suit. They abandoned their copyright infringement attack ages ago, and there is still no ruling who really owns those rotting old SYS-V bits. Additionally, there are persuasive arguments that a lot of those old copyrights are pretty much void because SYS-V code has been passed around, shared, and used so much in textbooks.

Sooo...we should not wish that Novell should fail. But not because they contain potent anti-Linux weapons that must not fall into the wrong hands, because they don't have those.

Copyrights don't matter

Anonymous's picture

Precisely. Copyrights on UNIX mean jack to GNU/Linux. The only thing Linux is in danger from is patents.

Yep, just goes to show once

Sunit Das's picture

Yep, just goes to show once again that RMS is in it for the long haul. Regardless of what you think of his politics, it's moves like this that prove his long view. Not just is he letting them slide, but expects "this to make the deal backfire against Microsoft, by extending the deal's limited patent protection for Novell customers to the whole user community."

Again, we have incentive to not just allow Novell to slip off into the night. We, in fact, should encourage them to release as much GPL3 MS->GNU/Linux interoperability code as they can. Doing so would essentially provide the only such MS-sanctioned code which was automatically blessed at the time of creation against patent warfare for all licensees (a.k.a., free software devs). I would say this is a much better reason to not actively trash Novell than the fear of their System V patents "falling into the wrong hands."

Community? No clue

Anonymous's picture

For starters...Novell did not post a loss for their 2nd quarter earnings...Mr Editor - you need to do better homework since you are referring to Q1 2007. Novell posted BETTER numbers than Wall Street expected in Q2 (posted minutes prior to your post)...hence the rise in stock price today.

Next...Google is heavily recruiting everyone's talent. Developers come and go from Novell and every software company. Novell recruited talent that left when it purchased SUSE back into the fold recently (after the MS agreement).

And also...Novell feels (openly I will add) that it is doing what it is doing in the best interest of Open Source Software. Novell contributes a TON of work to the open source community. Far more than Red Hat ever will primarily because of Novell's size.

Consider that the Open Source Community is larger than any organization out there today enterprise or non-profit. However it acts as a disjointed conglomerate of bantering idiots by attacking a company that feels it is doing a service to Linux/Open Source. This is common in the Open Source Community...simply read the details about Tux500 at tux500.org. True communities do not cannibalize their own. They learn how to embrace the faults of others to strengthen themselves.

It is too bad that so called journalists write the way they do. Articles such as this do nothing to help anyone, they are simply creating MORE fud than Microsoft creates.

Finally...while it is impossible given the numbers that Novell is posting for it to crash and burn (and the "community" is incapable of making such a thing happen) even if Novell did "crash and burn" I think that there are other companies out there that would outbid MS quite quickly for it's assets...namely Google or IBM, or even Oracle.

False: Novell _did_ report a loss for Q2

Anonymous's picture

See http://www.marketwatch.com/news/story/novell-profit-slumps-microsoft-rel...

For more, see http://www.novell.com/news/press/novell-reports-financial-results-for-se...

Your comment about journalists is double-edged. There are plenty of journalists talking Novell up, too, I hope you realize. Given Microsoft's influence in the media, I think the most you can say is that anti-Novell messages are merely more overt but certainly not even close to being as effective. Indeed, the very overtness is a "weakness".

Based on your own mistaken speculation on these points, it's hard to take seriously your other claims.

Obviously not one person in

Anonymous's picture

Obviously not one person in the open source community has heard the quote....

"Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer."

Why Novell Must Not Crash and Burn

Anonymous's picture

The possible demise of Novell has some interesting aspects that most people seem to be ignoring:

1) If the open source community can force the demise of a company that they perceive has sold them out, then this signals that said open source community has developed some serious political clout.

2) In the game of purchasing successful companies and claiming that you are now also successful by association, Novel had an opportunity to become one of the major players in development and deployment of open source software. Their problem was correctly identified as not being flexible enough to make the corporate decision to follow this by migrating Novell Netware clients to open source solutions, and to move from being a software licensing organization to being a software support company. This looks more like a management issue than a problem with open source. They bought SUSE, but never bought into Suse.

3) POSIX documents provide instructions for writing code that works like UNIX without having to copy any of the original UNIX source. By having software developers work from POSIX with no access to UNIX source code it seems that the result would be legally separate and distinct from any UNIX licenses or patents. That was the original reason for POSIX development.

4) The demise of SCO and it's current situation had more to do with actions of it's senior management in the 1990's era than with any marketplace issues. The present owners of SCO had nothing to do with that situation.

5) Microsoft may have needed to purchase Novell to avoid possible litigation in areas where Microsoft networking software infringes on Novel Netware patents and original code. Possibly, Novell could have initiated litigation against Microsoft in this area, but now that is a moot point.

6) Is it possible that parts of the kernel for Microsoft-NT, Windows-2000, and Microsoft-XP may contain code snippets that could be traced to previously published open source, BSD, and/or UNIX OS source code. If this is the case, then Microsoft's indirect purchase of SUSE via Novell could be just a way to gain rights to use of that code. It is easy to attribute sinister intent to Microsoft actions, when it might be that they are just cleaning up some lose ends regarding legal rights to code that they already use.

7) Microsoft OS vulnerability to virus attacks is legendary, and after many patches and rewrites is still apparently vulnerable. It remains to be seen whether they are considering change to a more protected and UNIX-like architecture as one way to make their kernal software both more robust and safer from attack. Accessing SUSE code indirectly via Novell could possibly provide an avenue to such an approach.

We live in interesting times when it comes to small computer operating systems and the organizations that provide them. With the popularity of personal computers, it is apparent that there will be more than one operating system available for them. Microsoft cannot afford to be the only one, or they might become vulnerable to the anti-trust laws which were used to break up AT&T.


I don't think that means what you think it means

Anonymous's picture

Overall good points though I disagree with the implications of many of them.

If your first point is true, it is also a reason that enterprise customers should be running away from open source. It is not bad that the community have clout. It is irresponsible that they use they clout on a whim to attempt to destroy companies that they don't agree with. Why would I bet my business on a solution with that much uncertainty and risk? The good news is that I don't think the community has the kind of clout it would take to harm itself this way. Further I don't really think the community at large has this mal-intent.

Your second point is woefully inaccurate due to being blissfully unaware or ignorant of the economic differences and responsibility to provide continuity to paying customers. My view is that Novell is moving their customers to open source where it makes sense and they are not forcing the customers to give up capability or ease of management in the process. Meanwhile they are working as hard as anyone to add enterprise scale to Linux or to open source offerings on Linux so they can accelerate the movement.

Your third point is fine for copyright but patents have nothing to do with having seen the code. Patents are for concepts and techniques and are not remotely protected in the way you'd like to believe they are.

Your fifth point should consider that, in a traditional world, the outcome of Novell pursuing MS for such infringements would have had exactly the result that occurred but without the extra complexity of not directly protecting themselves. Most such cases end in patent cross-license and balancing payments.

Your sixth point is moot as MS has paid for the right to not worry about those concerns. As SYSV was managed as traditional software, MS was able to pay to license those patents and copyrights so they wouldn't have to worry about them. Clearly there is a question of whether Novell should receive that money as part of royalty structure SCO is supposed to pay them but the rights issue is resolved. Ironically, this same "cleaness" is what MS says they are trying to achieve with their Novell deal and other deals they'd like to do. Call it sinister or not. It is the way the world works as long as patent law exists as it does. That GPL is purposefully not compatible which these laws doesn't keep companies from worrying about complying with the laws.

On your seventh point, MS has publicized their intent to move to a least privilege model already. No need to speculate here.

I must have missed the meeting

Anonymous's picture

The "community" meeting where we all voted to destroy Novell. Sorry, the "community" is individuals making individual decisions on how to proceed in light of Novell's actions. That so many have decided to turn away from Novell is an indictment of Novell, not the "community". Running away from open source means turning your back on your customers, a business plan that is working so well for SCO right now.

Thanks for the great points!

Anonymous's picture

Thanks for the great points! However, I simply disagree about whether Microsoft had sinister intent.

Whatever they had in mind, the fact remains that they circumvented the very GPL license that has been the object of their most intense demonization over a period of many years now, and, of course, it would not have been possible without a willing accomplice, Novell.

Thus, regardless of Microsoft's goals, they attacked the GPL, and that's good enough confirmation that they remain as evil as ever. It's a shame, because they could reform and still make money, but they choose not to.

defend free software ? ..

Doug's picture

I think you have got that wrong, the patents are being used to defend Novell only, they only defend the end-users of Novell, independent developers of original code are not defended unless they roll back their contributions to Novell and don't work on company time and agree that MS owns their own 'original work'. Not much of a covenant then ..

I was talking about SCO...

Glyn Moody's picture

...and Novell's denial that SCO owned the patents and copyrights it claimed. Obviously the Microsoft deal is quite separate and, as you say, provides no general protection.

Well, ... no

Chris's picture

The SCO-IBM case is resolving itself quite nicely without the need for the Novell-SCO outcome. SCO-IBM has never been about patents anyway.
The conclusion you can make is that when you make a deal with the devil, the understanding is that at the end of the deal, the devil owns your soul. I would have thought this was pretty obvious.
The sad thing is how cheeply Novell sold itself out. Poor management in my opinion.

I agree

Glyn Moody's picture

The SCO case is unravelling nicely, but I'm more concerned about avoiding future threats. As I've commented below, Microsoft is not the only potential problem: patent trolls are also an issue.

What if you're already 100% patent unencumbered?

Anonymous's picture

OpenBSD purposely avoids this entire issue by not using any code that isn't 100% truly free and open. Any of these big-shot companies can make whatever license claims they want... they have nothing, repeat NOTHING on OpenBSD.

Why is it so difficult for the GNU/Linux community to embrace BSD licensing? It's insulting that truly open software is never mentioned in these articles about supposedly "open" and "not-so-open-after-all" software.

Personally, Novell should see the freight-train coming. Remember the old "Get the red out" slogan MS used to crush the Netware marketshare? MS does, I'm sure...

I'd rather not give my work

Anonymous's picture

I'd rather not give my work to a forum which accepts abuse of copyright and is effect public domain.

You shall loose control of your works and it serve you right.

It's obvious that you don't

Anonymous's picture

It's obvious that you don't speak for the OpenBSD project and that you don't understand what patent problems are about.

You're mixing up the whole stupid GPL vs. BSD debate with patents which are a whole different issue. Bad comment, no cookie.

"Why is it so difficult for...

Jeff Rollin's picture

"Why is it so difficult for the GNU/Linux community to embrace BSD licensing?"

Because despite your claims, the BSD licence isn't "100% truly free and open". Which is more open, the open code that can be closed, or the open code that will remain open?

Besides, the question of the BSD licence vs. the GPL seems totally irrelevant in this case, except insofar as Linux companies using it would make Microsoft happy because they could copy, conceal and then charge for the code. Why would you want to make Microsoft happy?

OpenBSD is actually 100% free

Anonymous's picture

Despite the claim that the BSD license isn't completely free, OpenBSD uses it and is absolutely 100% free. If there is a section where patents may be an issue one of three things is done- attempts made to (potential) patent-owners to release the code for free use, the section of code is completely re-written BSD-licensed from the ground-up, or that section of functionality is removed from the code until the first two things can be accomplished. It's a tough road to hoe at first, but gets easier with time. And the result is always better code (OpenBGPD, OpenOSPFD, OpenSSH, NTPD, etc.)

And another commenter made a similar point to yours- why make MS happy with code they can openly take and market as their own... but so what? Seriously, what does that matter? The whole point of free and open software is that anyone can use it anyway they see fit. And it's a snowball effect- the more free and open software is used, the more popular (and thus used) it will become... so let them eat cake. And trust me- the moment someone realizes their free code is being used by MS all public-relations hell will break lose- MS would prefer with their dev teams to re-write it anyway just to save face.

Re: OpenBSD is actually 100% free

Anonymous's picture

You comment "If there is a section where patents may be an issue one of three things is done- attempts made to (potential) patent-owners to release the code for free use, the section of code is completely re-written BSD-licensed from the ground-up, or that section of functionality is removed from the code until the first two things can be accomplished."

But that is only possible if somebody makes you aware that there is a potential patent problem. The Linux developers have offered to take the same approach (with the obvious exception that the re-written code would be GPL-licensed), but until Microsoft reveals which patents they claim are being infringed, it is not possible to do so.

The other option available that you do not mention is that an effort could be made to get the patent overturned, and apparently Microsoft is so scared that their patents won't withstand closer scrutiny that they can't risk that outcome. This is likely part of the reason behind their refusal to specify the allegedly infringed patents, although the FUD effect is probably a stronger reason.

How do they know it is unencumbered?

Anonymous's picture

Given the current state of software patents in the US, how can any project be sure that it does not infringe on some patent(s)? A number of people have made the claim that it is impossible to write any significant program that does not infringe on at least one patent, and considering the number of software patents that have been granted over the past ten to fifteen years and the poor quality of most of the ones I've read about, this claim has a very good chance of being true. The only way of being certain your code does not infringe on any patents would be to review all patents that have been issued that might be relevant to your project and verifying that there is no infringement. I frankly see no way that any developer could do that review and still do any development, even if he/she could understand all of the legalese included in the patents.

Would this work?

Anonymous's picture

I am working on a FOSS project and have had many sleepless nights worrying about software patents, especially after having seen some of the most ridiculous ones vetted in the press. But then I thought of a possible defense. If my code is based on concepts that are older than the life of any patent, then by definition, a claim of my code infringing on a patent means that it is invalid due to prior art.

So I simply have to write code that is based on ideas that have been around since the computer stone ages. Now how difficult/expensive that would be to prove in court is another matter, but if the defense is viable, then at least I can get some sleep ;-).


Anonymous's picture

This should be a viable defense, although it could still be very expensive to prove. Unfortunately, patent law appears to be one of the few areas where "innocent until proven guilty" is not adhered to by the US courts (IRS disputes being another common example). OTOH, if you could provide the prior art to the USPTO, you might stand a reasonably good chance of getting them to review the patent and overturn it before the case went to trial, saving much of that expense.

I am a developer and not a lawyer, but it appears to me that the recent Supreme Court decision (KSR) gives us another viable defense that is likely to be as good as the prior art defense, and means that you can still use more recent ideas instead of limiting yourself to older concepts. The patent office is not supposed to grant patents on ideas that are obvious to skilled practitioners in the subject area of the patent, and the new standard for determining what is obvious makes it much more likely that you could successfully defend yourself against most software patents as long as you can provide a strong case that you developed your code without reference to the patent or any code developed by a licensee of the patent. Proving this in court may still be very expensive, but IMHO it should be a viable defense for at least 80 to 90 percent of all software developers, maybe more, against any software patent currently on the books.

OTOH, I suspect that most patent holders are more likely to give you an opportunity to remove the infringing feature or re-write your code to get around the patent before suing, especially in the case of FOSS projects where there isn't much chance of collecting a lot of royalties. It is only dying dinosaurs like Microsoft that see an opportunity to use the claimed infringement to promote FUD or as a way to make money off of a competitor that they can't beat that demand that users and/or developers take out licenses before they will reveal which patents are being infringed on. Unfortunately, as long as the USPTO continues to grant software patents, especially patents of poor quality, such organizations will remain a threat.

I am curious about the BSD license

Anonymous's picture

Suppose I put my work under a BSD license. Then Microsoft can incorporate it into a proprietary software product, profit from it, and invest the profit to only increase their nonfree software production, which can continue its exploitation cycle on code like mine (code under the BSD license).

Huh? That sounds like a raw deal to me! I don't mind anyone making money. It is _how_ the money is made that matters. I will damned if any code I write is used in proprietary software.

Could we revise the BSD, keeping it nice and simple as it is, but just add a clause that prohibits software it covers from being used in proprietary software products?

Idiot. "add a clause" takes

Anonymous's picture


"add a clause" takes away from the "nice and simple". That's why the 2-clause license is more free than the 3-clause, which in turn is more free than the 4-clause.

We understand what rights we grant with a BSD-style license, really we do. We're ok with that. Go ahead and put whatever terms you like on your license, but we'll be damned if we ever use any of your encumbered code. Go join a GPL3 love-fest.

Wilco Mr Mous. It seems that

Anonymous's picture

Wilco Mr Mous. It seems that you understand that your code will be abused and I don't want my code to be abused. choices are choices and I'd rather you wrote your own abuse ready code than used mine to be honest.


Anonymous's picture

Novell needs to acknowledge it's failure, and regain the respect of the free software community. I don't know how they'd do that - maybe using their dollars to aggressively promote desktop Linux?

Who else markets for desktop Linux?

Anonymous's picture

Uh, maybe I missed something... Who spends more money marketing Linux on the desktop than Novell?

Sure there are plenty of Linux distributions out there that tout Linux for the desktop... Ubuntu, Red Hat, etc... but I don't hear nearly as much from them as I do from Novell and SUSE?

Of course, there's always room for MORE marketing.

If you acknowledge what I've said above is true (maybe you do, maybe you don't) then one COULD argue that the anti-Novell free software community is really hurting themselves more than helping. Oh, that's right... they haven't sold out yet - right? Maybe I got that wrong... I don't recall having seen any revenue numbers from "them," just bitching and moaning.