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FOSS DEMonstration Against Novell

Posted in Europe, Free/Libre Software at 1:47 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

FOSDEM sponsorships
ORLY? Novell?!?!

This post addresses an ongoing problem that we’ve already covered in:

Novell is almost a proponent and also a vendor of software patents, judging by its own words and also its deeds. So what’s the deal with Novell being a main sponsor — one among only two — of a European conferences that concentrates on Free/open source software? Novell’s open source side of business accounts for under 20% of its overall identity, based on some estimates and criteria. O’Reilly is a separate issue that we won’t tackle this time around, but it’s pro SaaS and use of Free software, which is not the same as contribution.

“Novell’s open source side of business accounts for under 20% of its overall identity, based on some estimates and criteria.”“[This event] is taken by FOSDEM crooks,” tells us one person. And in response to Rui’s letter, off come some gloves at Philip Paeps’ blog. Michael Douglas writes: “Your pathetic excuses to ban Novell from contributing to FOSDEM only goes to show how childish you and the rest of the BoycottNovellers actually are, throwing temper tantrums whenever you don’t get your way.”

This is an ad hominem attack that targets people using labels such as “childish”, “kids”, “brats”, “angry”, “zealots” and so on and so forth. Labels are cheap [1, 2, 3, 4, 5], explanations are not.

This troubling situation has already escalated to ComputerWorld and we heard that Slashdot or Richard Stallman might have something to say on the issue too.

“Free software” or “open source”? It’s a perennial question that has provoked a thousand flame wars. Normally, the factions supporting each label and its associated theoretical baggage manage to work alongside each other for the collective good with only a minimal amount of friction. But occasionally, the sparks begin to fly, and tempers rise. I think we’re in for another bout of this particular fever.

Glyn Moody wants no involvement in such arguments, but it would be interesting to see how FOSDEM justifies giving special treatment (return for investment) to Novell, which says outrageous things like “intellectual property peace of mind” (re: Free software, ‘thanks’ to Microsoft “patent royalties”, paid through vouchers to Microsoft).

Peace of mind

“I’ve heard from Novell sales representatives that Microsoft sales executives have started calling the Suse Linux Enterprise Server coupons “royalty payments”…”

Matt Asay, April 21st, 2008

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  1. AlexH said,

    January 13, 2009 at 1:55 pm


    It would be good if FOSDEM put some prices on entry so that those who don’t want to accept Novell’s goodwill can pay their way properly.

  2. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 13, 2009 at 2:01 pm


    Why don’t they invite Sam Ramji, pocket some Microsoft money, promote BetaVista7 and make it a free admissions event?

  3. Roy Bixler said,

    January 13, 2009 at 2:17 pm


    Novell knew when they made their pact with Microsoft that it would be controversial and that at least some would object to it. Here they are trying to buy some advertising and some good will. The fact that they are partially finding the event doesn’t obligate those who still disagree with their Microsoft pact to be silent.

  4. Roy Bixler said,

    January 13, 2009 at 2:18 pm


    On my last post: s/finding/funding/

  5. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 13, 2009 at 2:21 pm


    I saw what they did last year. The whole place gets decorated with green chameleons and big red Ns. This propagates through minds and photos.

    They do the same in some LUGs.

  6. Ian said,

    January 13, 2009 at 2:43 pm


    I saw what they did last year. The whole place gets decorated with green chameleons and big red Ns. This propagates through minds and photos.

    They do the same in some LUGs.

    What do other vendors do?

  7. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 13, 2009 at 2:50 pm


    Hardly the same thing, based on my experience.

  8. Ian said,

    January 13, 2009 at 2:52 pm


    So, Red Hats instead of red “N”s then?

  9. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 13, 2009 at 2:53 pm


    I hardly see that form of advertising from Red Hat, which promotes no fork of OOo, either.

  10. Ian said,

    January 13, 2009 at 3:02 pm


    Red Hat doesn’t focus on the desktop. Why would they promote any office suite?

    Roy, I’ll be honest with you here. Your bitterness towards Novell doesn’t inspire much objectivity as far as in conference advertising goes. And really, who actually pays attention to any of that junk and puts any weight on it?

  11. mpz said,

    January 13, 2009 at 4:38 pm


    I find it odd that those guys related to FOSDEM don’t think politics is any part of a ‘free software’ conference. Free software is *primarily* a political issue. That `messy’ issue of politics is the entire reason `open source’ was invented – out of thin air remember. They have to expect at least some flak for a ‘no questions asked’ policy of sponsorship if they include ‘free’ in their title.

    I don’t necessarily think they should refuse any sponsorship from Novell myself, but it’s certainly an issue they should expect to come up. I might add that since they have accepted money, it would be better if they kept their thoughts to themselves, since there’s no way any comment can be seen as entirely impartial (if these particular commentators are in any way related to the organisation). They are introducing politics themselves by abusing people with different views (pretty much the definition of politics).

    Anyway, people should be free to disagree – and certainly there can be valid personal reasons for each side to have the positions they do, but there’s no need for insults, all it does is help polarise and divide, which is exactly what the proprietary world wants. It doesn’t lend much weight to the insulter’s arguments either, and just makes them look like the childish ones.

    “And really, who actually pays attention to any of that junk and puts any weight on it?”

    Well think of it this way – if nobody cared why would they bother? Why would they spend the money? It’s part of a marketing and branding strategy to invest in these events, and they expect wall-space as a result.

    I might add that I was involved in a Novell presence at a trade show where their banners dominated the ‘open source’ section by a massive margin (it really looked like it was a whole Novell box from the other side of the floor, even though we had less than a quarter of the floor space from memory). I think it’s partly to do with the fact that they have a lot of gear from their glory days, so it’s no effort to roll it out whenever there’s an opportunity.

  12. Ian said,

    January 13, 2009 at 4:53 pm



    Fair enough. I like to think I normally don’t get swayed by marketing material. That might not be the case for everyone and I’m probably unfairly extrapolating my own stance on everyone else.

    Actually, arguing about Novell marketing when they’re actually trying to promote themselves is funny because Novell marketing is generally considered non existent when the topic comes up around a group of “Novell users”. The general response is, “what marketing?”.

  13. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 13, 2009 at 5:21 pm


    The way extravagant marketing and Free software interact is another issue worth bearing in mind. The marketing business is a one-trillion-dollar business in the US, annually (IIRC). It’s a system of imposed ignorance which is funded by buyers (about 20% of the cost of everything, on average).

  14. Victor Soliz said,

    January 13, 2009 at 7:21 pm


    Everybody is missing the point here. Like AlexH said, these conferences are all about sponsors giving money so that they could bombard people going to them with adverts. It is in the spirit of these things to sell to the highest bidder. So, seeing Novell is hardly a surprise here.

  15. Victor Soliz said,

    January 13, 2009 at 7:24 pm


    A disturbing post from something linked in here:

    Talk about fighting the last war! Microsoft is no longer the big kahuna. Do you also object to the participation of companies like IBM, Sun, HP, etc? How about Google, Yahoo! or Amazon? All of these companies are a mix of proprietary and open source. (Even Red Hat is a mixture.)

    The world has moved on. You obviously have not.

    I will “move on” once MS and Novell show any signs of having moved on. But they still seem to push their little agenda of a Linux that requires MS Licensing, so, it seems I will not move on yet.

  16. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 13, 2009 at 7:28 pm


    In advertising (e.g. television, not cable), the product is the audience. The adverts are called “content” and television shows are called “fill” (yes, it’s true). The fill is intended to maximise viewing of content. It’s a ruthless and unethical industry of mind control — for sale.

    In FOSDEM, companies put money in a bag to be sold developers (the product) and grab market share/mindshare. The speeches may be “fill”.

  17. JohnD said,

    January 13, 2009 at 7:58 pm


    I don’t get the royalty part. I know Novell has given money to MS, but MS has given far more money to Novell. If anyone is paying royalties it’s MS, and that’s not a bad thing in my book. I also find it interesting that most of the people who support FOSS have “day jobs” to pay the bills since they can’t make money off of the FOSS code they write. I do think software patents are stupid, but people should be able to charge for the software they write. JDEdwards gives you the source code when you buy the product. Why can’t you guys gather around at least that concept – software communism is a dead end. Don’t believe me? Quit your day job and see how you make out just coding for FOSS.

  18. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 13, 2009 at 8:09 pm


    I don’t get the royalty part. I know Novell has given money to MS, but MS has given far more money to Novell.

    That’s not how it works. Microsoft pays Novell to admit/do all sorts of things that include OOXML support (in 2006) and admission that Linux supposedly infringes on Microsoft patents and therefore customers must buy Microsoft patent licences for SLE*.

    Why can’t you guys gather around at least that concept – software communism is a dead end.

    “Software communism”? Funny how many Linux developers are well paid for this “software communism”…

    You can internalise explanations about how Free software may mean more money and better distribution of control/wealth: http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/

    Why recite myths? How many proprietary software companies make money in a world of monopolies and lock-in?

  19. ushimitsudoki said,

    January 13, 2009 at 10:23 pm


    Mr. Paeps in his blog makes it clear that the “Free” component of FOSDEM is a “token gesture to the free software movement” and that the only thing that matters is that “they are also in the open source software business and want to give us money”.

    That says it all right there. They have “Free” in the name, but don’t really mean it, what matters is money; so there’s no point in asking them to refuse Novell — or any company’s — sponsorship.

  20. James Likmeghn said,

    January 14, 2009 at 2:07 am



    You sound really concerned about Novell – when were you exited from the company?

  21. AlexH said,

    January 14, 2009 at 3:59 am



    Microsoft pays Novell to admit [..] that Linux supposedly infringes on Microsoft patents and therefore customers must buy Microsoft patent licences for SLE*.

    Novell made no such admission, and you know it – in fact, they said publicly precisely the opposite (Q3).

  22. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 14, 2009 at 4:25 am


    So what is this “IP peace of mind” that it markets?

  23. AlexH said,

    January 14, 2009 at 4:29 am


    It’s a promise to each other’s customers that they won’t sue them; it’s not a promise to each other.

    Come on Roy, you know this, we’ve been over this so many times. Neither Microsoft nor Novell admit they infringe each other’s patents.

  24. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 14, 2009 at 4:32 am


    Wow, you sure spin tirelessly.

    So, tell me, can Microsoft sue Red Hat customers for patent infringement? That’s the message Novell appears to be sending. It markets itself using FUD.

  25. AlexH said,

    January 14, 2009 at 4:35 am



    Sorry? What would stop Microsoft doing that before their agreement with Novell?

  26. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 14, 2009 at 4:36 am


    Novell is precedence and the deal also fueled FUD.

  27. ushimitsudoki said,

    January 14, 2009 at 4:39 am



    Actually, Q3 says:
    “Novell makes no admission that its Linux and open source offerings infringe on any other parties’ patents.” (emphasis added)

    This could be Novell’s way of saying “our Linux stuff isn’t infringing, but you never know about their Linux stuff.”

    Normally, I would say this is nitpicking – but we know for a fact that Microsoft has said on multiple occasions that Novell has paid for patent rights / respects IP / etc., and other Linux vendors need to follow suit.

    We also know that Novell has hinted around that its offerings are “safe” and offer “IP peace of mind”, which I think implies that other companies’ offerings do not.

    This is a minor point, but I don’t think it’s fair to point at Q3 of that FAQ and say that is is “precisely the opposite”. I would say it’s ambiguous intentionally, but I don’t expect everyone to agree with me on that.

  28. AlexH said,

    January 14, 2009 at 4:41 am


    @ushimitsudoki: it’s difficult to see why SLES (for example) wouldn’t infringe patents, but RHEL (for example) would – they’re basically the same thing.

    I’m not sure why you think it’s ambiguous: Novell won’t and can’t speak for other people’s code.

    @Roy: it’s not precedence.

  29. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 14, 2009 at 4:41 am


    Novell also puts this in its releases and brochures.

    This is really ‘news’ and discussions that go back 2 years ago.

  30. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 14, 2009 at 4:42 am


    @ushimitsudoki: it’s difficult to see why SLES (for example) wouldn’t infringe patents, but RHEL (for example) would – they’re basically the same thing.

    But Novell pays Microsoft. That’s the point.

  31. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 14, 2009 at 4:42 am


    @Roy: it’s not precedence.

    Please explain.

  32. AlexH said,

    January 14, 2009 at 4:51 am


    @Roy: given they’re not admitting patent infringement and not paying for patent licenses, it’s difficult to see what precedent you think it sets.

  33. ushimitsudoki said,

    January 14, 2009 at 4:54 am



    I think it is ambiguous because of just the kind of exchange we had in this thread: one person says Novell insinuates that Linux infringes patents, and another person responds by referring to the FAQ.

    People that know Linux may agree that SLES and RHEL are basically the same thing – but the man in charge of purchasing at HugeMcLarge Inc. might not hear that from a Novell salesman.

    Again, I realize it is a very minor point in one sense, but in another it goes to a larger issue of how Novell tries to position itself in respect to other Linux vendors by trumpeting the Microsoft deal – and perhaps spreading Microsoft FUD while doing it.

    All that being said, I don’t want to make too much hay out of one word – just pointing out why I think that Q3 specifically is a bit ambiguous and not a good response to the assertion that Novell insinuates Linux infringes on Microsoft patents.

  34. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 14, 2009 at 4:52 am


    From the horse’s mouth:

    In mid-November, shortly after the pact was announced, Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer said companies that sell or run Linux, but aren’t covered under the Novell deal, are illegally using Microsoft’s IP. “We believe every Linux customer basically has an undisclosed balance-sheet liability,” he said.

    He said in a later meeting: “I do think it [Novell deal] clearly establishes that open source is not free.”

  35. AlexH said,

    January 14, 2009 at 4:58 am


    @Roy: Microsoft have said the same thing in many other situations; it doesn’t make it true.

    Given that the balance of payments is clearly Microsoft->Novell, the money doesn’t really follow either.

  36. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 14, 2009 at 4:59 am


    it’s FUD. Novell fuels it.

  37. AlexH said,

    January 14, 2009 at 5:00 am


    They fuel it by saying how it’s not true? Oh man…

  38. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 14, 2009 at 5:01 am


    They fuel it by deeds and words.

  39. AlexH said,

    January 14, 2009 at 5:10 am


    They fuel it with the words that say “it’s not true”?

  40. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 14, 2009 at 5:15 am


    You can’t be serious, can you?


    That’s damage control, not a policy.

  41. AlexH said,

    January 14, 2009 at 5:16 am


    Hey, at least I actually have a link where they’re saying the things I’m quoting.

    You’re saying they admit patent infringement with absolutely no evidence whatsoever!

  42. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 14, 2009 at 5:18 am


    They contradict themselves. If they say there is no violation, then why do they market protection?

  43. AlexH said,

    January 14, 2009 at 5:27 am


    Because “no violation” is an opinion, “promise not to sue” is a guarantee.

    Novell aren’t the only company who do this.

  44. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 14, 2009 at 5:28 am


    That’s not what they say and imply.

  45. AlexH said,

    January 14, 2009 at 5:33 am


    Roy, you have your own opinion about the deal and that’s fine.

    Trying to interpret Novell’s opinion for them, though, isn’t. We’ve caught you out trying to talk for corporations before, remember?

  46. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 14, 2009 at 5:37 am



  47. AlexH said,

    January 14, 2009 at 5:47 am


    Talking for Sun, where you attempted to explain “their likely intent” and even when it was pointed out to you that you were putting your words in their mouth you said it was “refuting the obvious”

    No so obvious, since Sun corrected you and you reverted to a “it was always my opinion” (note that you still didn’t correct the story, which to this day states “Sun [..] seems to be responding in a subtle fashion to Novell”).

  48. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 14, 2009 at 5:50 am


    This was an opinion based on things I’ve heard.

  49. AlexH said,

    January 14, 2009 at 5:51 am


    Sure, but it wasn’t Sun’s opinion.

  50. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 14, 2009 at 5:53 am


    I can never speak for Sun.

  51. AlexH said,

    January 14, 2009 at 5:55 am


    Sun Responds — Gently — to Novell’s OpenOffice.org FUD

    Except that Sun wasn’t responding :D

  52. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 14, 2009 at 6:20 am


    It was my opinion that Sun was responding. Yesterday they published a blog post about community contribution and I suspect it’s no coincidence; they might subtly battle the FUD that comes from Novell’s Michael Meeks.

  53. AlexH said,

    January 14, 2009 at 7:46 am


    If you’re talking about the overline blog, I was impressed by that, but mainly because someone managed to battle through the paperwork to actually get a feature into OOo.

    What is interesting is that OOo 3.0 doesn’t have this feature, but “supports” ODF 1.2. ODF 1.2 will presumably have the overline feature (when it’s finally ratified), so OOo 3.0 is just going to throw away any overlining as per the feature document.

    Slightly sad it took over six years to get that feature, but then I guess there are other notable projects like that (e.g., Mozilla).

  54. Chris said,

    January 14, 2009 at 10:31 am


    Hi Boy.

    I was just wondering if you ever heard of http://www.gnu.org/software/dotgnu/ and if we can now expect the same trolling as for Mono?

    Or is this one good because it is done by “mighty fine GNU” ™ and not by “bad bad Novell” ™ ?

    Sincerley yours …

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