04.01.07

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The Fool on Microvell

Posted in Deals, Finance, Fork, FSF, FUD, Microsoft, Novell at 12:01 am by Shane Coyle

No, it’s not my new tagline.

For some reason, referencing fool.com feels especially appropriate today, and they just happen to have a recent article regarding the Microsoft-Novell deal, and its long-term impact on a short-sighted Novell.

The article speculates as to Microsoft’s motives for entering into this pact with Novell, rather than purchasing them outright, were to use them as a wedge to divide the Free Software community and spread their FUD.

If Novell was looking for a get-rich-quick scheme, it seems to have backfired badly. The company needs to convince a wounded community that what it’s doing is in the best interests of the open-source movement at large, or suffer the consequences.

Microsoft might or might not have had defensive plans, but the whole affair turned into an offensive play regardless. It’s working out very well for the company, to the point where the legal indemnification entendre starts to sound far-fetched by comparison. Maybe this was the plan all along — a “divide and conquer” strategy based on a few huge egos clashing. Brilliant, if true.

The Motley Fool article also discusses Novell’s "cavalier" attitude towards the FSF’s attempts to eliminate discriminatory deals such as the one that they have crafted with Microsoft, and speaks ominously about Novell’s options should the FSF decide to strike back.

“The recent patent agreement between Microsoft and Novell aims to undermine these freedoms,” said Free Software Foundation (FSF) leader Richard Stallman in the draft release notes. “In this draft, we have worked hard to prevent such deals from making a mockery of free software.”

Novell disagrees. From the company’s initial response: “We will continue to distribute Linux. Nothing in this new draft of GPL3 inhibits Novell’s ability to include GPL3 technologies in SUSE Linux Enterprise, openSUSE, and other Novell open source offerings, now and in the future. This is good news for our customers.”

That cavalier attitude could come back to hurt Novell if it sticks by its guns. I think Stallman would take the company to court over these issues in a heartbeat. His GNU tools will most certainly be licensed under the final version of GPL3, since the FSF runs both of those shows. Without that vital glue, you don’t really have an operating system, and the whole Linux platform falls apart. In fact, Stallman has long insisted that we call it GNU/Linux, rather than just naming the kernel, to give the GNU project its props. Either Novell convinces the FSF to drop its anti-Novell wording, or the Microsoft pact is history.

I doubt the FSF will blink, so I suppose that Novell will need to revisit their deal with Microsoft, which they are prepared to do, they have said in the past.

It must be easier to do that than forking around 15% of their code base or risking being "(frozen) in amber as an example of the state of software in early 2007, as the rest of the Free Software community and Linux distributions move into the future", as Bruce Perens so eloquently put it.

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