Novell have received a huge amount of flack for the recent patents agreement with former arch rival Microsoft. The agreement also sought to ensure that Novell’s flavours of Linux played nicely with Windows and other MS technologies.
The announcement of the companies’ agreement was greeted with a mixture of shock and outrage amongst Novell’s adepts and the Open Source community, since for as long as anyone can remember, Novell have not exactly endorsed Microsoft’s products or philosophies. Linux and the Open Source community develop and distribute software in a method diametrically opposite to that used by the proprietary and expensive Microsoft. For both sets of users Microsoft is often seen as “The Great Satan.”
Many wondered why Novell were cozying up to their nemesis. As a result of this volte face, they received a hammering in the Open Source press and have alienated many of their most loyal supporters. This stinging criticism appeared to be wholly justified when Microsoft began releasing statements implying that Linux infringed some of their intellectual property rights and patents. Many commentators assumed that because of their agreement, Novell was joining this attack on Linux while protecting its distributions in the event of Microsoft suing other Linux distributors and users for breach of copyright.
This implication has forced Novell’s CEO Ron Hovsepian, to post an open letter to the community, distancing Novell from Microsoft’s statements, clarifying what they thought the agreement meant and reaffirming their commitment to Open Source and free software.
You have to wonder at the naivety of Novell’s management for even considering agreeing anything with such a predatory, greedy and bullying company as Microsoft. Linux is the only OS that has a chance to break their monopoly and offer computer users a better and free experience. If Microsoft can kill it using patents, they will. A company that can post $14 billion dollars profit has almost unlimited scope for legal action. Their talk of an “intellectual property bridge” between the open source and proprietary worlds makes most people in the Open Source community VERY nervous indeed.
So Novell have alienated their core users, pissed off Microsoft by having to issue a statement disagreeing with them, and further damaged their reputation in the Open Source world. Not very impressive. If you sit down to sup with the Devil, you will be tarred with the same brush, if I may mix my metaphors.
Below is the humble pie…
Open Letter to the Community from Novell
November 20, 2006
On November 2, Novell and Microsoft announced a significant, multi-part agreement to work together to improve the interoperability between Linux and Windows and for Microsoft to redistribute more than 350,000 subscriptions for SUSE Linux Enterprise to the Windows customer base over a five-year period. This agreement is at the heart of what IT users demand — to deploy both Linux and Windows, and to have them work well together — and many companies have spoken out in support of this new cooperation.
Customers told us that they wanted Linux and Windows to work together in their data centers, and so we agreed to develop new technologies and standards in server management, virtualization and document file format compatibility. CIOs want to focus on their business, and they want their suppliers to focus on improving operating system interoperability. The Linux community will benefit from the creation and release of the open source code to improve Linux’s interoperability with Windows that will result from this agreement.
Our interest in signing this agreement was to secure interoperability and joint sales agreements, but Microsoft asked that we cooperate on patents as well, and so a patent cooperation agreement was included as a part of the deal. In this agreement, Novell and Microsoft each promise not to sue the other’s customers for patent infringement. The intended effect of this agreement was to give our joint customers peace of mind that they have the full support of the other company for their IT activities. Novell has a significant patent portfolio, and in reflection of this fact, the agreement we signed shows the overwhelming balance of payments being from Microsoft to Novell.
Since our announcement, some parties have spoken about this patent agreement in a damaging way, and with a perspective that we do not share. We strongly challenge those statements here.
We disagree with the recent statements made by Microsoft on the topic of Linux and patents. Importantly, our agreement with Microsoft is in no way an acknowledgment that Linux infringes upon any Microsoft intellectual property. When we entered the patent cooperation agreement with Microsoft, Novell did not agree or admit that Linux or any other Novell offering violates Microsoft patents.
Our stance on software patents is unchanged by the agreement with Microsoft. We want to remind the community of Novell’s commitment to, and prior actions in support of, furthering the interests of Linux and open source, and creating an environment of free and open innovation. We have a strong patent portfolio and we have leveraged that portfolio for the benefit of the open source community. Specifically, we have taken the following actions:
* We have stated our commitment to use our own software patents to protect open source technologies. more +
* We have spoken out against EU legislation that would liberalize the standards for granting software patents. more +
* We offer indemnification to our Linux customers accused of intellectual property infringement. more +
* We have teamed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and other industry leaders to reduce the issuance of “bad patents” in the software area. more +
* In 2005, we co-founded Open Invention Network (“OIN”), “an intellectual property company that was formed to promote Linux by using patents to create a collaborative environment.” Novell’s substantial contributions to OIN were made to benefit not only ourselves, but also other Linux vendors, distributors and developers, and anyone else willing to commit not to assert their patents against Linux. more +
In closing, we wish to be extremely clear that Novell is committed to protecting, preserving and promoting freedom for free and open source software. We recognize that the community of open source developers is essential to all our activities in Linux, and we welcome dialog with the community as to how we can continue to work together toward these common goals.
Chief Executive Officer
Microsoft Statement on Novell Agreement
REDMOND, Wash., Nov. 20, 2006 –
“Microsoft and Novell have agreed to disagree on whether certain open source offerings infringe Microsoft patents and whether certain Microsoft offerings infringe Novell patents. The agreement between our two companies puts in place a workable solution for customers for these issues, without requiring an agreement between our two companies on infringement.
“Both of our companies are fully committed to moving forward with all of the important work under these agreements. The agreements will advance interoperability between Windows and Linux and put in place a new intellectual property bridge between proprietary and open source software. Customers and participants throughout our industry will clearly benefit from these results.
“We at Microsoft respect Novell’s point of view on the patent issue, even while we respectfully take a different view. Novell is absolutely right in stating that it did not admit or acknowledge any patent problems as part of entering into the patent collaboration agreement. At Microsoft we undertook our own analysis of our patent portfolio and concluded that it was necessary and important to create a patent covenant for customers of these products. We are gratified that such a solution is now in place.”
November 20, 2006