Summary: A look back at 3.5 years of Microsoft-influenced Novell
“Would it be possible to have some retrospectives to show the harm Novell is doing and how their behavior is worse now?”
That’s a request just sent by a reader who added, “In the SCO v Novell fight, neither side are the good guys.”
Here in a nutshell is how Novell has been hurting software freedom in recent years. It’s a concise explanation with all references omitted for the sake of simplicity.
Novell is a proprietary software company (the vast majority of its business) and a software patents proponent which takes pride in its number of software patents. Novell did not oppose software patents in Europe and when it signed a patent deal with Microsoft it essentially ignited a flurry of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt), directed squarely not necessarily at end users who were outraged but was instead targetting companies like TomTom, HTC, and Amazon — companies that happen to have Linux inside their products/services. This new wave of patent claims was the SCO equivalent which relied on patent law rather than copyright law. In neither case was any evidence presented. To make matters worse, Novell used Microsoft’s patent offensives (patent lawsuits and other attacks) to market its own products, notably the “SUSE Linux Enterprise” product line.
As Novell’s relationship with Microsoft tightened (Microsoft paid Novell money even after the initial deal had been signed), Novell continued to advocate to businesses that they should pay Microsoft for GNU/Linux, then embrace Microsoft software/paradigms like .NET, VBA, SharePoint, OOXML, Silverlight, and so on.
“Too few people have paid attention to the fact that over the years, Novell’s board and management absorbed former Microsoft staff, which evidently blurred the gap between Novell’s interests and Microsoft’s interest.”Novell also advanced Microsoft patches for Linux that not only enable Microsoft to marginise GNU/Linux (putting it as a secondary virtual machine under Windows) but it also helped Microsoft’s pretend that it made peace with “open source” (never mind the patent attacks and preferential treatment of proprietary dependencies). Novell advanced the notion of “interoperability”, often at the expense of patents-free open standards and as part of this charade, Novell put Microsoft APIs inside GNU/Linux (notably Mono and Moonlight).
In its defence, Novell loved pointing at the SCO case, describing as “goodwill” its own struggle to merely secure a valuable asset, UNIX. Novell did contribute to GNU/Linux development through the OpenSUSE project, but layoffs in that department showed that Novell was not dedicated to the cause and its contributions to GNU/Linux fell quite sharply over the years. Instead, Novell emphasised its unique products that only Novell customers can use safely and securely, due to a patent deal that appeased Microsoft.
In summary, Novell saw SUSE as a potential turnaround and a chance to reinvent itself, but in its frantic opportunistic fashion Novell relied on partners such as Microsoft to change the rules of the game and harm companies such as Red Hat (turning them into competitors rather than co-developers). Novell continued to derail projects such as OpenOffice.org, essentially by seizing control of them and making them more beneficial to Microsoft’s cause (putting the Windows version ahead of GNU/Linux for example, sometimes emphasising OOXML at ODF’s expense and spreading Mono/VBA rather than Java).
Too few people have paid attention to the fact that over the years, Novell’s board and management absorbed former Microsoft staff, which evidently blurred the gap between Novell’s interests and Microsoft’s interest. █
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Power to the Microsoft Way® — becoming a follower, not an independent leader
WE HAVE ALREADY commented on the latest release last night. TechGeek writes: “Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if the deal between Microsoft and Novell didn’t cover OpenSuse. But I don’t know for sure.” Well, it didn’t. But into OpenSUSE goes the poisonware (free-but-Microsoft-patents-encumbered software) anyway.
From Sean Michael Kerner:
As well Novell includes support for Microsoft Excel VBA, and integration with Novell’s Mono project. Mono is a Novell led effort to enable Microsoft .NET on Linux.
The Mono effort has also led to a Novell effort called Moonlight which is an attempt to enable Microsoft’s Silverlight media framework on Linux. The first public beta for Moonlight came out in December. Moonlight is not, however, part of the openSUSE 11.1 release. Brockmeier explained that Moonlight isn’t part of the release mostly due to timing issues as the Beta came out after openSUSE hit is feature freeze.
The issue is that many of these things, which are sponsored by Novell/Microsoft, are then passed to other distributions to harm the Real Things® like ODF, Java, and Web standards. █
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Europe for OpenDocument format and open source software
Just a couple of days after Europe’s quiet announcements (praising Free software and standards) we find yet another. It’s about Bristol, in the United Kingdom. [via Glyn Moody]
UK: Major cost reduction result of Bristol’s switch to Open Standards
Bristol City Council’s switch to StarOffice in 2005 has led to a major reduction of IT costs, says Gavin Beckett, the council’s ICT Strategy manager.
StarOffice is Sun Microsystems’ proprietary suite of office applications, which is based on the Open Source OpenOffice. In 2006 Bristol took the further step of adopting the ISO-approved Open Document Format (ODF).
Speaking at a conference on ODF in the Netherlands last month, Beckett said that implementing StarOffice for 5,500 desktops in Bristol saved 1.1 million GBP (1.4 million euro) in comparison to the total cost of implementing Microsoft Office. “The licences for StarOffice cost us 186,000 GBP (243,000 euro), in comparison to 1.4 million GBP (1.8 million euro) for MS Office.”
These major savings were offset slightly by extra time needed for implementing StarOffice. Implementation cost the city council 484,000 GBP (632,000 euro), double the estimate for MS Office. This was due to document conversion and training, said the IT Strategy manager. Explaining and troubleshooting the new office applications took several months more than planned.
If there was any setback or difficulty, guess what it was? Microsoft’s deliberate incompatibilities (boosted by the network effect), which are a result of the ‘extensions’ Microsoft last bragged about only a few days ago. Here is
noooxml.org‘s response to it:
Microsoft New Zealand representative wants competitors to make reverse engineering over their products. Standardizing the whole format would not permit Microsoft to have a ‘competitive’ advantage.
Sorry, but the macros are stored in a file format, so not defining how to interpret this data will lead to a competitive advantage for the company of Redmond, and will be a killer for interoperability. I don’t want to buy a Windows license and an Intel PC just to be able to decode their crappy format.
In light of the new set of documents from the ODF Alliance, also consider the text about OOXML implementation being a ‘community’… of just one company.
Unless there are multiple, competing, full implementations of OOXML, citizens will be faced with a choice of one – and only one – office suite based on OOXML, Microsoft Office. Until OOXML moves beyond its current single-vendor status, National Bodies should vote “No” (disapprove).
It remains to be seen what gets decided after an utterly broken BRM [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12]. █
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An interesting update from Sun Microsystems has shed some light on a recent misfortunate development where Novell went its own way with OpenOffice.org. In case you have not followed this, Kohei wrote his solver code under the JCA, which is acceptable. Then he joined Novell and decided to withdraw from the project, which led to conflicts and had Michael Meeks, whom we criticised before, pretty much fork the project.
To sum up: the decision whether the “Kohei solver” or any other of the components Novell holds back will be contributed to OOo or not is a decision of Novell, not of anybody else. Alleging something different is at least a misapprehension. And for whatever Michael Meeks is fighting, if he takes the work of others as a hostage in his crusade against the JCA, he shouldn’t blame others for its suffering.
Novell is clearly not the ‘hero’ that will rescue the world from the ‘evil’ JCA, but that’s what they would have you believe. As indicated in a comment I’ve left in the cited blog item, this is not the first time Novell seeks to ‘extend’ OpenOffice.org its own way, potentially introducing components that are tied to Microsoft (time bomb/Trojan horse). Come to think of VBA macros, OOXML, Mono, and a Windows advantage for OpenOffice.org. Why? Because, according to Ron Hovsepian, Microsoft would not permit these to be used outside Windows.
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The following exchange of words suggests that Novel could get sued over OpenOffice macros and even put other companies at risk.
This has direct implications to the guys at Novell who are working on VBA integration with OpenOffice.org. Sure, with the new partnership between Microsoft and Novell, customers of Novell would not get sued, but the Novell team themselves and all other OpenOffice.org users are at risk here. So it’s imperative the Microsoft provides an answer if closely related technologies to MSOOXML are also covered in this covenant, so it is possible for third parties to develop solutions.
This is not yet definite, but Boycott Novell raised this as a possible legal risk in the past. Security aside.
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Paying for changes to Wikipedia content by proxy is one thing, whilst paying a third party to discredit or attack someone is another. The latter case seems more severe because its consequences are often irreversible.
Consider financial backings for litigious battles that put in jeopardy a person or a company. If done indirectly, this avoids customer backlash and alienation, as demonstarted by the mistake made by Ballmer when he openly spoke about “balance-sheet liability”. We have witnessed fierce attacks embodies the form of SCO, which while backed by Microsoft, targetted companies that use GNU/Linux. I suspect that Linux distributors other than Novell are bound to become the next victim. The dark clouds that are cast by tsunamis of FUD make them a victim already. But what happens when one goes deeper and targets an individual rather than a large company? I caught an interesting bit in a new interview with Dr Andrew S Tanenbaum, the creator of Minix.
[Andrew S Tanenbaum:] A couple of years ago this guy called Ken Brown wrote a book saying that Linus stole Linux from me, from Minix, and therefore the intellectual property rights are unclear and therefore companies shouldn’t use Linux because I might sue them.
It later came out that Microsoft had paid him to do this — and I defended Linus. I wrote on my Web site saying that this guy Brown came through, visited me and I gave him the [correct] story.
While the above may be no news to you, it is to me. And just recall the fact that Microsoft funded SCO’s lawsuit against companies that make use of the Linux kernel.
According to the Declaration, Richard Emerson was not the only Microsoft employee Goldfarb was dealing with in connection with the BayStar investment in SCO. He mentions by name two others, from two other departments.
Nothing but malice, unsurprisingly.
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A couple of days ago, Shane mentioned proprietary extensions which Microsoft embeds in its OpenXML implementation. That, as a spurious reminder, is the standard which Novell agreed to embrace. It is a standard which fits an application; not a case of applications being built to support a standard. The 6,000+ pages which describe this bizarre ‘standard’ do not include any documentation of these ‘extensions’ and, to make matters worse, according to Sam Hiser, there are legal barriers as well.
In short, Microsoft promises not to sue you for using the Microsoft Office Open XML formats in your software. But this promise only applies to patents Microsoft may have in the explicit parts of the Microsoft Office Open XML specification and which are described in detail there. It would not cover those parts essential to implementation which are merely referenced in the specification and lying outside the specification. See the language, “only the required portions of the…specification”, emphasized below.
It is not surprising that two supporters who are willing to implement Open XML are already in Microsoft’s hands. Corel is one of them, Novell is another. Sun Microsystems has already criticised (even “slammed”) Open XML, as did IBM, among many more people. who comprehend the value and importance of standards.
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As you are likely aware, Excel 2007 includes a new file format for storing data, well actually it has a few new file formats apparently. And, none of them are OpenDocument, in case you were wondering.
Rob Weir takes Office 2007 for a spin, and has some interesting things to report regarding the file formats being used by Excel 2007.
In addition to the default Open XML file format (.xlsx) that has been added to Office 2007, there is also an additional format called the Excel Macro-Enabled Workbook (.xlsxm) which contains binary-only data not specified in the ECMA standard. There is also an all-new binary-only format (.xlsb), which Microsoft says provides "optimal performance and backward compatibility" (wasn’t that the point of Open XML?).
The “Excel Macro-Enabled Workbook” option saves as an “xlsxm” extension. It is OOXML plus proprietary Microsoft extensions. These extensions, in the form of binary blob called vbaProject.bin, represent the source code of the macros. This part of the format is not described in the OOXML specification. It does not appear to be a compiled version of the macro. I could reload the document in Excel and restore the original text of my macro, including whitespace and comments. So source code appears to be stored, but in an opaque format that defied my attempts at deciphering it.
(What’s so hard about storing a macro, guys? It’s frickin’ text. How could you you[sic] screw it up? )
This has some interesting consequences. It is effectively a container for source code that not only requires Office to run it, but requires Office to even read it. So you could have your intellectual property in the form of extensive macros that you have written, and if Microsoft one day decides that your copy of Office is not “genuine” you could effectively be locked out of your own source code.
There is also a method to add in additional file formats for saving to, including PDF and Microsoft’s XPS, but there is no native ODF support yet.
Overall, Rob’s experience was a bit buggy, and there was an incident where trying to save to Open XML prompted a message about incompatible features (so much for backward compatibility, hey try the new binary-only format…).
I wonder how Novell OpenOffice.org’s VBA support is going to handle the new binary information in the macro-enabled workbook? Still better than the next MS Office for Mac, I suppose.
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