04.28.08

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Novell Under the (Microsoft) Bridge

Posted in Deals, Free/Libre Software, FUD, GNU/Linux, Microsoft, Novell, Patent Covenant, Patents at 8:33 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Novell rolling, rocking, and bridge-building

A reader has sent us a pointer to this new article from Glyn Moody at Linux Journal. The article described just what Microsoft intends to achieve using its deal with Novell and why many software developers get exploited in the process. It’s all self-explanatory really, but here is the ‘meat’ of the argument which speaks about Brad Smith’s explanation of the Novell deal (shades of OSBC again [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]):

…as well as all the respect and appreciation that Brad wanted to express, he also has an interesting explanation of Microsoft’s current world-view:

we believe in the importance of building a bridge that makes it possible for the different parts of our industry to work together. We believe it needs to be a bridge that respects the diversity of different business models. We believe in a bridge that is scalable, that is affordable, that is workable, and that doesn’t try to move people from one island over the bridge to another but let’s everybody do what they love to do and respects that.

Live and let live: what could be more reasonable?

But let’s listen to Brad again as he explains what that means in practical terms:

That is a hard bridge to build, and yet I will say I believe today more than ever that it is a bridge we need to build. And I very much value the work and the conversations we were able to have at Novell when we started to build that bridge in November of 2006.

Ah, Novell. And what lies at the heart of that joint bridge-building with Novell?

we believe that patents are best sorted out by industry leaders so that developers and customers don’t have to deal with these issues themselves. We as industry leaders should take it upon ourselves to sort these things out.

When we worked things out with Novell, we did it with an eye towards succeeding in ensuring that the developers who were creating the software for Novell would not have to worry about this set of things, nor would their customers.

So there we have it. You shouldn’t worry about those silly old software patents because Microsoft and Novell have sorted everything out for you: all you have to do is carry on coding.

Except that it’s not quite that simple. Microsoft’s vision of “live and let live” is predicated on its continuing use of software patents, and of the open source side letting Microsoft and Novell handle all the tiresome implications for open source. In effect, though, this amounts to recognising Microsoft’s patents, and accepting its “solutions” for the open source community. “Live and let live” turns out to be tantamount to accepting Microsoft’s right to file, own and use software patents, which, in its turn, means accepting they apply to the open source world.

This “live and let live” promise surely excludes all those whose wallet hasn’t the Microsoft strings attached to it? Although the author does not say this directly and explicitly, it seems evident that he condemns this deal and suggests that we continue to combat software patents. Here is how it’s summarised and concluded:

Above all, it will send a message to the company that the open source world is not falling for the old “embrace, extend and extinguish” trick, and that if Microsoft really wants collaborate, “live and let live” is simply not enough, because of the asymmetric bargain it implies. As a basic pre-condition of working together with open source, the company needs to accept free software’s absolute foundation – the ability to share all its code in any way and with anyone – and that, by definition, means no software patents whatsoever.

Microsoft will most likely hope to find comfort in precedence (Novell’s blessings), resting in its government-imposed monopolies, to use Richard Stallman's description of software patents.

Interestingly enough, going as much as a decade back, you can find a similar term being used to describe this, namely a “government-granted authority.” Whatever term gets used, it’s always interesting to associate it with the context, antitrust action in this case.

…the federal government of the United States of America has intervened in the free market by granting Microsoft a legal monopoly through the patent and copyright processes. On numerous occasions, agents of the U.S. Department of Justice — the same DOJ that right now is taking shots at Microsoft in the courtroom — has intervened to arrest and penalize businessmen who attempted to ignore the federally-created right known as intellectual property. This right is a federally-mandated fiction, not a process of the free market. Copyrights were not invented by business, but by the government, who grants them and enforces them as a form of federally-sponsored monopoly.

Since Microsoft’s economic and intellectual property derive directly from government-granted authority, it is only reasonable for governments to have the power to review and modify how the beneficiaries of their shared power use that authority. Antitrust is one means by which governments attempt to reel in some of the power they delegated to companies and individuals.

It is rather ironic that the same establishment that grants monopolies is also the only means for undoing and regulating them. It’s like asking a gun shop to enforce the law in a barbaric nation. Something more effective will be needed to encourage fair competition which serves the customer. As things stand, Novell and Microsoft override laws proactively, using deals and deeds.

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