Bonum Certa Men Certa

More Shuttleworth on Novell-Microsoft

The chat log from the Ask Mark IRC session has been posted on the OpenWeek Wiki, and a few questions touched on the significance of the deal between Novell and Microsoft. Interestingly, there were no questions about the OpenSUSE developer invitation and reaction.

In all, there were 3 questions on the Novell-Microsoft topic, relating to the Microsoft threat level, Canonical's own patent policies, and what actions are planned in case of an infringement claim. I reproduce the three questions and Mr Shuttleworth's responses in their entirety:

< Admiral_Chicago > Is Ubuntu considering revisitng[sic] their own patent license or how they approach licensing in the wake of Novell / MS?

We are certainly looking at ways to strengthen our stand against software patents. We are entirely opposed to them, and its possible we can actively help to prevent their spread, beyond the advocacy we already do. Whether or not the Novell executives who negotiated the recent Novell-MS deal were aware of what was going on, it's entirely obvious that MS is working to establish an IP framework that limits the spread of free Linux.

It was obvious to many of us the moment the deal was announced that "virtualisation interop" was far less interesting to MS than the patent implications. MS paid Novell a lot of money to stand up on stage and validate their theories about patent licensing and MS will expect a return on their investment :-) So, i was not surprised when Ballmer came out with the statement that "anybody running any Linux other than SUSE has an undisclosed balance sheet liability."

What that means, in english, is that anybody who uses any version of Linux other than those that pay MS, are liable to get sued by MS that includes Debian, Gentoo, Ubuntu, Fedora etc. Make no mistake about it, this is a major assault on the key things that have driven the success of Linux. This is why i think its so important to protest the deal and why I think we should find ways to take a stronger public position on patents within Ubuntu.

< ailean > How threatened do you feel by Microsoft? Do they actually have any claim on Ubuntu's code, will any legal threat fail, or does money talk?

Interesting question. MS have done some wonderful things for the world. They made software cheap, which is great. They made it standard. They have produced some excellent software and some not-so-excellent software. I think, now that we have the internet, that the free software process is a fundamentally better way of producing software, though.

I think that free software platforms will innovate faster than proprietary ones. So at a deep level, I think its them that should feel threatened. That said, history shows that a big organisation that can't change fast enough to adapt to changes in its environment and ALWAYS tries to lock the environment down.

Look at the RIAA, the members there cannot see a way forward that preserves their profitability, so they are suing their own customers to try to preserve a 70's era analog business model. I think MS is prepared, if worst comes to worst, to sue their own customers in order to protect an 80's era business model, of software licensing. That's dangerous.

They are of course also trying to innovate out of the corner, Windows Live is interesting, so is the X-Box, and the Zune. They are all attempts to shift to subscription-based revenues, relationship-based revenues. If they can be successful there, they are less likely to go nuclear, but if not... That's why we can't legitimise their IP dogma now. Why the Novell deal is so treacherous.

< Spec > Pending legal action, would Ubuntu redirect all of their efforts in extracting "patented" code from the OS?

We would certainly do our bit. If anything that Canonical has created infringes someone's patents, we hope they will let us know so we can fix that, or that they will licence the patents for free use with free software. We would also of course coordinate with upstreams working on their part. I do not actually believe that a nuclear patent option will stop linux at all. IBM and others have made it very clear they will use the muscle in their patent portfolios to stop big IT companies from trying that and as for small patent trolls, we can work around any patents they might come up with. While at the same time, the Linux vote is getting stronger and stronger. If we had 50 million users in the USA, we could certainly block dangerous patent legislation.

Of course there are other topics in the *buntu world that are covered in the chat, including requests for more Kubuntu staff, the controversy over proprietary driver inclusion, and if there is anything to the Googlebuntu distribution rumors. Head over to the entire log of the chat for more information and insight on all things Ubuntu.

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