I haven’t posted about the Microsoft-Novell deal before now, because I wanted the dust to settle and to try to make sense of it. The dust has settled, but it still makes little sense.
One thing seems clear, though; that any hope of some good from it, is in vain.
Bruce Perens has written an open letter to Novell’s CEO Ron Hovsepian, and has invited anyone, who feels the deal is a bad thing, to add their name in protest. There are a lot of names already, and the list is growing quickly.
From that page:
Novell and Microsoft’s software patent agreement betrays the rest of the Free Software community, including the very people who wrote Novell’s own system, for Novell’s sole financial benefit. Join Bruce Perens in signing an open letter to Novell’s CEO Ron Hovsepian.
Novell have signed an agreement with Microsoft that excludes Novell’s customers from any legal action brought as a result of patent-infringement. Said patent-infringement would allegedly occur through their use of GNU/Linux.
Surely that’s a good thing? Aren’t they just looking after their customers?
The issue is that Microsoft are obviously trying to legitimise their claim that GNU/Linux infringes their patents, and Novell’s action seems to do this. Whether it would have any affect in a legal case remains to be seen.
Novell’s reasons for this are simple. Money.
The agreement means that Microsoft will pay Novell $348 million upfront. Novell, in turn, agrees to pay Microsoft at least $40 million, over the 5 year term of the agreement, on a percentage of its revenue from open source products, ‘for use of Microsoft’s patents’.
The agreement also requires Microsoft to spend $12 million a year to market GNU/Linux’s interoperability with Windows (that’s all we need).
You don’t need a calculator to work out who, in the short term, benefits financially from this deal.
You could excuse Novell’s behaviour by pointing out the fact that they have a new CEO who’s only been in the job for five months, and that he just doesn’t understand the situation, but this is a mighty big mistake to make for a rookie.
The simple fact is that Novell have been losing money, and they’ve decided to sell their souls to get out of their predicament. Ironically, SUSE Linux was the part of their business that was making money, and that is the market they have just alienated.
Novell have since publicly stated, much to Microsoft’s ire, that in making this deal, they have not agreed that GNU/Linux infringes Microsoft’s patents. However, it remains that Microsoft have been using this deal to add weight to their patent claim, and said that other GNU/Linux vendors may face legal action.
Microsoft have seen the threat from GNU/Linux, and are now seeking to kill or control it. Their normal tactic of buying their competitors doesn’t work with GNU/Linux, and they’re now flailing round trying to find a way to make it property (intellectual or otherwise); to make it something for sale.
I hope that the EU are watching this very closely, as they look at software patent laws.