01.12.11

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OpenSUSE Board (Non-Novell Part) Realises There Are Novell Ownership Issues, Novell Exploits the Community

Posted in GNU/Linux, Intellectual Monopoly, Novell, OpenSUSE at 4:32 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

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Summary: OpenSUSE trademark issues arise and Novell only sells closed versions based on the work of OpenSUSE volunteers (whose work it owns)

RECENT articles which talk about OpenSUSE are mostly dysphoric [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]. Assuming the Novell sale gets authorised around March, OpenSUSE will be left at the mercy of a bison slayer, who fuses OpenSUSE and SUSE when talking about either of them (we covered it here and there are other such ‘damage control’ communications). Those who found solace in an entity which is designed to appear independent soon face some startling analyses from legal professionals and Andy Updegrove is the latest to provide his point of view, which starts as follows:

Over the last few months, I’ve frequently pointed out the vulnerability of important open source projects that are supported and controlled by corporate sponsors, rather than hosted by independent foundations funded by corporate sponsors. One of the examples I’ve given is SUSE Linux, which has been hosted and primarily supported by Novell since that company acquired SuSE Linux AG in 2003. Novell, as you know, is expected to be acquired by a company called Attachmate a few weeks from now, assuming approval of the transaction by the Novell stockholders and by German competition regulators.

Recently, the future of the SUSE Linux Project (as compared to the Novell commercial Linux distribution based on the work of that project) has become rather murky, as reported by Pamela Jones, at Groklaw. Apparently, Novell is facilitating some sort of spin out of the Project, which is good but peculiar news.

Why peculiar? Because when a company is subject to an agreement of sale, one of the requirements the buyer imposes during the sale-pending period is that the seller cannot engage in any transactions outside of the ordinary course of business without the consent of the acquiror. This makes sense, because once the buyer has committed to a price, it doesn’t want the value of any of the assets it is purchasing to fall. That means that one would expect that Novell would at minimum be abstaining from taking any action in connection with any effort to move the project out and into an independent entity.

Except that Alan Clark, Novell’s representative on the Project Board, is actively helping with the spin out. That being the case, one has to assume that Attachmate must support the spinout as well.

Shouldn’t that be a good thing? In principle, yes, but the true intentions of Attachmate, which is a private company, are largely unknown. If the result is a truly independent foundation, then the spinout would be a welcome and long overdue development. But if the foundation is set up in such a way as to allow Attachate to control everything that goes on, then the transition will be more illusory than real.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols essentially repeats Groklaw when he says that the “[n]ew OpenSUSE Foundation will still be dominated by Novell” — a claim that Updegrove does not refute in his very lengthy piece.

One of the questions that has yet to be completely answered by Attachmate’s pending acquisition of Novell is what will happen to its associated community Linux, openSUSE. Some people in the open-source community, including my friends, Pamela Jones of Groklaw and Andrew “Andy” Updegrove, a founding partner at the law-firm, Gesmer Updegrove, are concerned that Attachmate/Novell will be calling the shots in the post-buyout openSUSE.

Much as I hate to disagree with two people I respect and like so much, I don’t see why they think that there’s a big deal is here.

Jones points out that “There’s more than one stakeholder in the OpenSUSE foundation being set up, and you’ll see that discussed in the log. Trademarks have economic value, and if the community is helping in building that value, I think it’s logical that they should gain a share of ownership rights so as to get some share in that value and some say in what happens with the trademark.”

Soon enough the trademark questions indeed arose [1, 2] and it is an issue we have been writing about for years (see this post about Novell and trademarks). Suddenly the coin drops. That latter link is Bryen Yunashko opening “an interesting feature request about a review of the current openSUSE trademark guidelines,” to quote his colleague Pascal. Bryen Yunashko is also concerned about the effects on accessibility, which may lose momentum as more and more people abandon OpenSUSE (as either staff or volunteers). He wrote:

Meanwhile openSUSE presents a very unique advantage that hasn’t been leveraged yet. With DBUS, the GNOME and KDE communities have worked together to leverage GNOME’s long-standing applications to work well on KDE. As openSUSE is a major distribution that provides support equally to GNOME and KDE, we have a distinct opportunity to provide the best integration of KDE and GNOME with accessibility. Thus offering prospective users and organizations a real choice on a distro that is known for its stability and support.

OpenSUSE development is growing rather stale, so cycles change accordingly. One blogger says that “[O]penSUSE however has made a big leap forward and taken the initiative to get the roller coaster rolling.” The SUSE “OMG”-branded site (emulating OMG!Ubuntu! just like OpenSUSE emulates Ubuntu) covered nothing of great significance recently [1, 2], but it said that “Evergreen brings 11.1 back from the dead”:

In mid-October we wrote about openSUSE 11.1 being put out to pasture and the openSUSE team’s decision to rapidly end-of-life the release. In the world of open source, what does “end of life” actually mean for users? As resident security expert Marcus Meissner stated in the original announcement:

SUSE Security announces that the SUSE Security Team will stop releasing updates for openSUSE 11.1 soon. Having provided security-relevant fixes for the last two years, we will stop releasing updates after December 31st 2010.

Apart from some instructional items like this one, there is not so much going on at OpenSUSE, but looking at the side which is not community-run, there is still this preinstallation option from HP: “The 6200 Pro supports Windows 7, Windows Vista, or Novell SUSE Linux.” That’s not OpenSUSE, it’s Ballnux and it’s taxed by Microsoft.

The VAR Guy uses the label “conspiracy theorists” to dismiss those whom he disagrees with regarding the fate of SUSE:

Also, some conspiracy theorists continue to believe Attachmate will sell or spin off Novell’s SUSE Linux business. During early negotiations, Attachmate seemed most interested in Novell’s IT management and security solutions, and didn’t initially bid on the SUSE business, according to a December 2010 SEC filing.

Also, trusted sources have told The VAR Guy that both Red Hat and VMware bid to buy Novell’s SUSE business in late 2010. Novell’s board of directors even considered retaining SUSE as a standalone company, according to that December 2010 SEC filing.

Here is a new case of SUSE in use, as well as something about the SUSE appliance program and a Dister announcement which generates some news [1, 2, 3]. Except for when it promotes Dister [1, 2], Novell’s PR department only mentions proprietary software, but that is a subject for a separate post. In the case of Dister, Novell exploits the work of volunteers to create appliances that are rather closed and restricted. How much longer can this community be bamboozled into delivering free labour to an ally of Microsoft?

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