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What Happens to OpenSUSE and Novell’s Software Patents Now?

Posted in Microsoft, Novell, OpenSUSE, SLES/SLED at 6:11 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

RIP, Novell (April 2011)

Novell's CEO and Ballmer

“I’m going to f—ing bury that guy, I have done it before, and I will do it again. I’m going to f—ing kill Google.” –Steve Ballmer [quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald]

Summary: How Novell died (news summary) and what it means to its main open source project which it acquired almost a decade ago; a look at what happens to Novell’s patents

NOVELL as a company is technically no more. Despite Novell acting as though it controls its future, the company is now in unregulated private hands [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12] and Microsoft helped that happen for its own selfish interests.

Here are some official documents with “Hovsepian Ronald W” and “Russell Dana C” on them. The deal is done and it is irreversible. There are those in Novell who think that everything will be fine, but AttachMSFT’s boss only mentions parts of Novell’s offerings, not all of them. He says there is little overlap and we believe that just like Oracle cut Sun into slices, AttachMSFT will abandon some of Novell’s portfolio (along with staff, naturally). As we have shown repeatedly, there is no apparent commitment to OpenSUSE, just to “SUSE”. And what is OpenSUSE really? It’s a package manager like YaST2, an installer, and few other bits that cannot be found in other distributions of GNU/Linux. But really, there is hardly a distinguisher in OpenSUSE and not even profit. Novell did try to buy itself an “open” image, whereas AttachMSFT has none of these aspirations and it has not expressed interest in acquiring such a reputation. Based on some newly-published download numbers, the OpenSUSE 11.3 release had just over 50,000 downloads in the first day (after the release). The numbers were better for the 11.4 release, but probably not enough to compel or rationalise a massive commitment to OpenSUSE (it was different before the Microsoft deal, back when Novell still advertised “Linux”, as shown in this newly-uploaded video). Here are some bits of YaST news from the OpenSUSE Web site (it mostly has summaries like this one, not many original stories anymore): “With the release of GNOME3 I would assume that people are interested in seeing how YaST2 (suggestion: rename it to YaST3 !!) is going to take form with GTK3. Of course this means eventually writing another application in GTK3, hopefully different from the old gnome-control-panel ‘style’ which was actually pretty confusion from the user point of view as it was far too close to gnome-control-center, thus confusing new comers.”

It is our long held belief that AttachMSFT will not stay committed to OpenSUSE and in order for YaST to survive, OpenSUSE might need to be forked. The bylaws situation is not acceptable as the legalese experts explained some months back [1, 2]. Surely enough, Novell staff does not want to listen to them. The OpenSUSE community manager berates Groklaw (the messenger) rather than listen to the message. There is a sense of denial there. According to any new blog post, article and analysis we can find these days, AttachMSFT is focused on SUSE, not OpenSUSE. To quote one:

I’m currently researching and writing about the changing Linux and operating system landscape, which is being impacted by cloud computing, additional competitors and devops, as well as the ongoing impact of unpaid, community Linux distributions such as CentOS and Ubuntu.

Another one of the changes underway is what’s happening with SUSE Linux, largely considered the second-leading enterprise distribution behind Red Hat Enterprise Linux, which has undergone some uncertainty thanks to the Attachmate deal to purchase the distribution and separate it from Novell.

Novell too only really cared about paying customers of SUSE and high-priced mainframes [1, 2]. The press releases from Novell refer to it accordingly [1, 2, 3, 4], hardly even mentioning the “L” word. Needless to say, SUSE is a Microsoft cash cow. Microsoft gets paid when one chooses SLE*. So why would anyone choose it? According to this new article, “Opsview, has been tweaked with a 3.12 release. With the update, the Opsview monitoring server can now run on Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11.” Why would anyone choose to pay Microsoft to run Free software like Nagios? Novell keeps trying to offer proprietary bolt-ons as a way to sell SLE*, e.g. PlateSpin which it keeps promoting online, still [1, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5, 6]. Red Hat, unlike Novel, offers Free software for such jobs.

So anyway, what role has Microsoft played in this whole thing? If one asks Microsoft brigadiers like Maureen O’Gara, then there is one version of the story, whereas Muktware puts it more bluntly with headlines like “Novell Patents Sold To Microsoft & Party”:

Novell also announced that immediately prior to the completion of its merger with Attachmate Corporation, it had completed its previously announced sale of certain identified issued patents and patent applications to CPTN Holdings LLC for $450 million in cash.

“Microsoft will not be able to keep patents it proposed to buy from Novell under an agreement with the US Department of Justice,” says this report about news which we covered before. It is further validated here although articles speak of mere limitation, not prohibition of the sale [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11]. Some of the reported are mutually contradictory, but the gist of it is that Novell still spreads its patents to Linux foes [1, 2], and that is a real shame. Novell does not deserve business.

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  1. The Mad Hatter said,

    May 2, 2011 at 12:51 pm


    Agreed. Fork it, and fork it now. There’s some valuable stuff in OpenSuse, and we need to kept in community hands.

    I’ll be covering the details in an opinion post later.


    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    That would be good, thank you.

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