Novell is loading Microsoft's gun

by Nicholas Petreley

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 OpenOffice.org.

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 OpenOffice.org, for instance, as Novell's VBA patches. The difference is that a translator would not insert Microsoft IP into OpenOffice.org.

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 OpenOffice.org). 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.