Microsoft Put Novell’s ‘GPL Grace’ to the Test

Posted in FSF, FUD, GPL, Microsoft, Novell, Xandros at 11:14 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

ITWire publishes an article which explains what the Xandros deal ought to have taught us. Let’s treat each of the points in turn.

One, that Microsoft has been emboldened by the fact that the last call draft of GPLv3 does not penalise Novell. A bit of compromise on Richard Stallman’s part has been interpreted as weakness.

It is clear that the licence draft can still be amended. On the one hand, for Microsoft to operate under the assumption that the draft will remain unchanged is just rather silly. The only thing they might achieve is:

  • A forced punishment to Novell (and Xandros)
  • Possible delay to the GPLv3 finalisation

So, in principle, Microsoft says “if GPLv3 takes us down, we might as well take Novell down with us“. It knows no mercy. In the process, Xandros will be (mis)used to promote another agenda and eliminated as a rival as well. Microsoft has a lot to gain here, so it spreads more destruction and takes it further. Any vendor which at this stage is willing to enter a partership with Microsoft is therefore committing suicide. The question remains, how much money will it take that vendor to take the dive willfully? This would be akin to paying your competition to exit the market, which is illegal.

Two, Redmond wants a test case to see whether Stallman’s statement – that GPLv3 will ensure that any and all patent deals will backfire against Microsoft – will be tested sooner rather than later.

Let us hope that it gets tested, assuming the process will also force Microsoft to fold its cards. An answer is better than uncertainty.

And three, that Redmond still believes that the old policy of spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) will continue to keep the cash registers at Redmond ringing.

Bingo. That continues to be the main issue here. Companies must realise that everything is an illusion that is intensified by words, not action. To them, the longer uncertainty is looming over, the better. Why is SCO, whose stock dived to oblivion, still attending the courtroom at all? It’s all about perpetuating a myth.

Divide-and-Conquer, Vivid Shades of SCO

Posted in Deals, GPL, Intellectual Monopoly, Microsoft, Novell, Patents, SCO, SUN, Xandros at 10:51 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

As time goes by, we find that it is increasingly hard to ignore the SCO case, which Groklaw is already focused on (watching it like a hawn). There is a fascinating new item which discusses Sun Microsystems’ and Microsoft’s support of SCO. As Groklaw pointed out a couple of days ago, the Novell and Xandros deals have an element of SCO malice in them.

Nowhere does the exhibit explain in any detail exactly what SCO IP was hidden within Linux. Does that sound to you like the sort of vague patent claims made by Microsoft in regards to its recent patent deals with Novell and with Xandros? It does to me.

This is not just a case of making IP claims and making their substance invisible. It is also a case of claiming ownership of something you are not entitled to have. This could lead to the conclusion that, at this stage, there is little distinction between Microsoft’s tactics and SCO’s tactics. It would not be surprising if more money is exchanging hands under a manipulative and malovalent agenda.

Yesterday, Eben Moglen’s take on the latest deal got published. He seems to suggest that companies take an easy route (and cash) at the expense of those who make their existence possible.

But Moglen told vnunet.com in a video interview that some in the community will be tempted to make a “private peace with the invader”.

“Divide-and-conquer strategies are built around the weakness that it is in the interest of some people to make a private deal for safety and abandon communal defence,” Moglen said.

This, of course, is an issue that the GPLv3 will address. The Novell and Xandros deals will no longer put them in a position of advantage. Au contraire — they will offer no added value and also be remembered as those who betrayed the values of Free software; and knowingly so!

The Novell-like Déjà vu in the Xandros Deal

Posted in FUD, Microsoft, Novell, Patents, Xandros at 10:27 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Just hours ago, LinuxWatch talked about the similarities between the invisible weapon used against Novell and the invisible weapon used against Xandros.

Once more we have Microsoft pledging that it won’t sue Novell — excuse me, Xandros — Linux customers for violating its IP, specifically patents. What patents? Determined how? Violated in what way? We don’t know, and Microsoft still isn’t telling.

It has become very clear that invisibility and deceit have become a way of overcharging companies. In order to defend that weapon, one needs to just stay out of court.

The problem with this whole can of worms is that Microsoft is gambling on never going to court.

So, as Shane puts is, what are we waiting for? Microsoft should be forced to reveal its cards one way or another. On the other hand, the ‘cold war’ is apparently ineffective and, according to this mini interview from InformationWeek, no ‘nuclear winter’ is expected. Fortunately, in that same item, it is also argued that the attitude towards Free software remains unaffected. High-level figures are apparently not buying Microsoft’s arguments. Only greedy/selfish Linux vendors do.

Johnson also says he has no special insight into what Microsoft is up to, but he doesn’t think it matters all that much. It won’t change attitudes toward open source adoption.

“Customers have long since decided open source is safe to use. In our space, it is hard to find any enterprise customer that does not use a lot of open source,” he noted. Leading closed source products from IBM, BEA and Oracle use Apache, Samba and other open source internally, he added.

It’s the Executives’ Fault, Not the Developers’

Posted in Corel, Deals, Microsoft, Novell, Samsung, Windows, Xandros, Xen at 10:08 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

For quite some time we have suspected that personal financial incentives play a role in the making of controversial (even insane) deals. Somebody from Groklaw identified what s/he believes to be the story behind the Xandros deal. According to one source that I spotted yesterday, Xandros has been negotiating with Microsoft since November 2006. Have a look at this article which goes back to that time:

“About three weeks ago I started to see strange faces pop up in the conference room, and they turned out to be investors. Then one weekend, someone had cleaned out a [seldom-used] room and given it to an investor as an office. A week later we were canned.”

Is it possible that developers are altogether excluded from negotiations which involve non-technical staff? Without seeking their advice, mistakes are bound to be made. Those who negotiate from the “dark side” therefore thrive in secrecy.

Are those that are misinformed responsible for making deals whose outcome is not realised until it’s too late? Recall what Jeremy Allison told us. Also bear in mind that there is quite a series of companies that sign agreements with Microsoft. These deals always work in Microsoft’s favour, but the boardroom is easily lured in by cash. It is oblivious to many factors, such as the fate of many companies that have already liaised with Microsoft, not to mention the reaction from some customers. Lack of transparency produces poor code. Lack of transparency in a company’s decisions produces errors.

Novell. JBoss. XenSource. Zend. Samsung. Xandros.

One by one, free and open source software providers are signing agreements with “the dark side”, the poster child for proprietary software, and (many say) the antithesis of open source: Microsoft.

Just In: Novell Earns More Money From MS Patent Deal Than it Pays

Posted in Antitrust, Deals, Deception, Finance, Intellectual Monopoly, Interoperability, Microsoft, Novell, Patent Covenant, Protocol, RAND, Xandros at 12:31 pm by Shane Coyle

Justin Steinman confirms, $240M > $40M

Okay, actually there is absolutely nothing new about the revelation in the post title, nor the (unpatentable) mathematical statement above, but what is new is how Novell’s Justin Steinman finally recognizes why Novell got so much more money, because of the sheer difference in customer base – not patent portfolio quality, as was often insinuated early after the deal’s announcement.

Q: How did you come up with the value for the “promise” that Microsoft made?

Nat Friedman: I have no idea how they did that. In general, when it comes to patent questions, you look at two things:
1. The patents that the patent holder has.
2. The business over the person who wants patent protection or coverage.
And the dollar amount is usually a function of these two values. So, for example, you might only hold one patent, but if you sue company X for infringing your one patent, and company X makes $1 billion/year in revenue based on their product that infringes your patent, then even though you only have one patent, you can extract a lot of money from company X.

So I’m guessing the team that put together the deal considered both the Microsoft and the Novell revenue. You notice that the balance of payments is heavily in Novell’s favor. Microsoft is giving us much more money than we are giving them.

Novell has a few hundred patents, and Microsoft has thousands. So you can guess that the quality of the patents and the revenue streams of both companies were considered.

Contrast Nat Friedman’s thoughts above with Justin’s below, note that Justin’s current story jibes with the one Microsoft was always pushing – a rarity when the two sides agree on an aspect of the deal.

“Actually, Novell gets more money,” Steinman said. Even when discounting Microsoft payments to Novell for access to Novell’s Suse Linux, Novell still gets more, he said. Steinman attributed the disparity to Microsoft simply having more customers than Novell.

“They’re paying for coverage for more customers,” Steinman said. He said he did know the difference in the amount of money changing hands.

Steinman recited the often-repeated mantra that the deal with Microsoft was what customers wanted. They wanted the IP issue to go away and they want Linux interoperability with Windows, he said.

Microsoft, in a statement, said the dollar amount of the arrangement will vary.

“Both Microsoft and Novell have patent portfolios, and as part of the patent agreement, each is paying the other for access to these patents. There is an upfront payment from Microsoft to Novell,” Microsoft said. “Then, Novell will pay Microsoft on an ongoing basis. The total dollar amount depends on how big certain Novell businesses grow over time. It is impossible to say how all payments will net out until Novell’s business performance over the next several years is factored in.”

Still, notice how there is no reciprocal royalty from Microsoft to Novell going forward, Novell receives a lump sum up front in exchange for their tacit acknowledgment of their IP claims, which Microsoft will slowly take back in royalties should they survive very long.

Anyhow, as has previously been demonstrated, the money in these deals is absolutely irrelevant to the monopolist: one week of Microsoft profit pays for 5 years of SUSE coupons; I once said that this is a "company that is facing a daily $1.5M fine in the EU and never even blinked. ". What is important to Microsoft is to have a list of protocol licensees who find their interoperability tax to be "reasonable and non-discriminatory" for the E.C., and to get Linux distributors to purchase their right-to-use license directly from the source, rather than via SCO.

Basically, Microsoft is willing to take a loss at first to win some customers for their right-to-use license, and Novell was happy to sign up as the first high-profile "reference" client, for some consideration – namely nearly one-third of a billion dollars or so, all told.

Poor Xandros, according to Groklaw they reportedly got zilch to be reference client #2, but they still have to pay the royalty on shipping products. Ouch.

More on Xandros (Meanwhile, BoycottXandros.com Goes Live) (Updatedx2)

Posted in GPL, Law, Microsoft, Patents, Xandros at 3:59 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

As Shane promised, the new Web site is finally up and running. At the moment it only redirects to Xandros-tagged posts in BoycottXNovell.com.

It sure seems like Xandors has betrayed some of its own customer, who actively seek a route out. Check out this threa[t|d] in their own Web site. Its title is “Xandros = Microsoft, Which Linux To Use Now?”. PCLOS 2007 is currently leading in the polls and, mind you, being a community distribution, Microsoft cannot ‘buy’ PCLOS.

In other news, Forbes (which is typically biased) publishes the article “Microsoft’s Protection Racket?”.

Microsoft should have admitted that Linux matters sooner. For years, the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant seemed to be in denial as the open-source operating software made gains against its Windows franchise.

Elsewhere we learn a little more about the possible legal implications.

Why would any company deliberately defy license terms? Because it can. We’d imagine that Microsoft’s pockets are deep enough that it couldn’t care less about legal action that might arise because of the agreement. In fact, as this InformationWeek piece seems to suggest, it may be that Microsoft wants to challenge the license in court.

As we stressed in the past, Microsoft tries to augment a list of companies which provide ‘admission’ of patent guilt. If these companies need to be paid in order to be lured into unjustifiable admission, Microsoft can use its deep pockets. That is also the point which Bruce Parens made yesterday. Xandros sold out.

Update: Shane and I initially dismissed concerns about the possibility of a legal battle. I changed my mind after hearing from PJ.

That said, Matt Aslett, who sort of sparked this debate, seems to be retracting now.

I also wrote that any deal with Xandros would negate my suggestion that Microsoft could be poised to mount a legal challenge to the FSF.

I’ve had second thoughts on that. This could be the deal that it uses to prove that the FSF is blocking its attempts to “build bridges”. We’ll see.

Microsoft expressed no intent to take legal action (not explicitly anyway). Alas, IANAL.

Update #2: Also worth seeing is the following discussion at Groklaw. Among the good points, which also highlight the resemblance to SCO’s ploy, there’s this reasonable guess:

I’m starting to wonder if this is just face-saving PR, after getting zonked by the GPL. Why would Microsoft care about a company this insignificant otherwise?

The Usual Suspects, The Game

Posted in Antitrust, Corel, Deals, Deception, Humour, IBM, Intellectual Monopoly, Law, Microsoft, Novell, SCO, SUN, UNIX, Xandros at 1:24 am by Shane Coyle

As a follow-up to a previous train of thought, regarding the Usual Suspects (so to speak) in Microsoft’s intellectual property saga, I thought it would be fun to review just some of the players who have had a role – recurring, walk-on, or otherwise.

Actually, to make this more engaging, this will be our first contest on the site, I believe. Put the following events in chronological order, the first correct answer in the comments section gets a coupon, redeemable for a free download of EDU-Nix Dual-Mode CD, or our very own SueMe Linux ("still in early development stages", ie vaporware).

  1. Caldera buys, then becomes SCO
  2. MS and Sun make a deal, in which all OOO installs prior to the deal were absolved, as was Sun’s StarOffice going forward, from MS IP claims.
  3. Corel acquires Wordperfect from Novell
  4. Corel invests in Xandros
  5. SCO sued IBM for who knows what, the story changes often.
  6. MS and Sun took a Unix license from SCO Update June 6: Sun also took out a Linux right-to-use license for their end users
  7. Caldera acquired DR-Dos from Novell, allegedly promising to sue MS but not mention Novell’s involvement.
  8. SCO tried to impose a right-to-use license on Linux users
  9. Novell claims ownership of IP SCO using to extort Linux users
  10. MS makes a deal with Novell in which Novell agrees to pay ongoing royalties based on open source software shipped under the agreement in exchange for a right-to-use license (covenant not to sue) for Novell customers.
  11. Caldera Sues MS over DR-DOS
  12. Novell sells some unix rights to SCO
  13. Novell Sues MS over WordPerfect
  14. MS makes a deal with Xandros
  15. Sun sues MS over their Java implementation
  16. MS makes a deal with Novell for Novell to pull out of EU antitrust suit
  17. Corel pledges to implement OOXML in Wordperfect

Of course, this is almost certainly a woefully incomplete, and perhaps even wholly inaccurate (hey, it’s late and I’m working from memory) listing of just some of the events in recent software industry history involving our friends from Redmond, meant mainly as a fun exercise and a conversation starter…

What did I miss? What did I mess up? And, what does it all mean? Tawk amungst yaselves

Tell Xandros How You Feel, If You Have Time

Posted in Action, Deals, Formats, Interoperability, Novell, Patent Covenant, Petitions, Xandros at 12:47 am by Shane Coyle

Bruce Perens has posted a new petition for the Xandrosoft deal, please feel free to sign in and make your feelings known. Somehow, I don’t think that this will get the groundswell of response that Novell’s sellout had.

I actually kinda feel bad about that, since we also have decided that we cannot dedicate enough time or effort to an entire boycottxandros.com website; it’s like in Heathers when Martha "Dumptruck" can’t even get attention by trying to commit suicide, which Xandros has essentially done. Kinda sad, really.

For those who have never heard of Xandros (which will be a lot of you), it’s a commercial distribution descended from Corel’s Linux system, funded by the same VCs that funded Ximian, and derived from Debian at one point, although I don’t know how much comes from there any longer. They’ve been around a long time, although for obvious reasons I can’t believe they are very successful.

There’s not much to do about Xandros. They aren’t a big player, this isn’t going to make them into one. We should turn away from them as was the case with Novell, but it seems a bit silly since most of us didn’t even know they existed.

So, Boycott Xandros!

Wow, that was easy.

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