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Novell, Microsoft... and IBM... Maybe Oracle Too (Part II)

In Part 1, we wrote rather cautiously about Oracle's relationship with Red Hat and then reiterated known facts about IBM. This is where it gets trickier because we now introduce what's not sufficiently substantiated but nonetheless worthy of consideration. It seems to have received a nod from Novell.



Some Background Information



Who is Ron Hovsepian? According to Wikipedia, "Hovsepian held management and executive positions at IBM Corporation over a 17 year period, including worldwide general manager of IBM's distribution industries, managing global hardware and software development, sales, marketing and services."

Our sources are close enough to Ron Hovsepian himself and it's interesting to note that he was appointed and made CEO between the time that IBM helped Novell acquire SUSE (Hovsepian Joined Novell in June 2003 and in November 2003 Novell bought SuSE) and just shortly before negotiations with Microsoft began, namely around May or June 2006. Hovsepian was appointed CEO in June 2006 when he replaced Jack Messman. Pay careful attention to the proximity of dates.

Linux as Power, Not Freedom



According to the Linux Foundation's annual conference (the Summit), which last took place in Austin, representatives might insist that they only care for Linux solutions, not desktops. Novell says that too: "solutions". In other words, the key element which is Free software, with the GNU GPL at its very core, is viewed as a nuisance, as though its kind of stands in their way. Proprietary or Free, to the big vendors it's all about power, not freedom.

Richard Stallman's philosophy and the accompanying licence are seen as discomforting to those who want to produce "solutions", so ways of working around the licences seems desirable. While every company is acting selfishly for sure, some remember to respect their supplier (volunteer programmers) and recall what they came from. Mutual honour is definitely a prerequisite to the success of this relationship.

Over at IBM, with Irving's departure (he retired quite recently, having put the company's focus on GNU/Linux and Free software), one can only hope that the leadership is still truly dedicated to the cause. Bob Sutor makes some solid migrations to GNU/Linux, but he still uses non-Free platforms sometimes. Being a decision-maker, he has impact.

Prelude to Assumption/Hypothesis



We finally turn our attention to the theory of a large-scale collusion -- a gentle one nonetheless. At the heart of it we picture a battle played by executives and lawyers behind some people's backs. Our source never really took the allegations of the OpenDocument Foundation working for Microsoft in disguise too seriously, but they did hurt the ODF cause a lot. Before that, Gary Edwards was leading a small but influent band of OpenOffice.org forkers and disruptors.

According to our source, a lot of what's at play is related to Novell. Factors and forces that include Novell, Microsoft and ODF are part of it, and surely enough IBM feels bitter with Novell's ambivalent yet receptive approach to OOXML. The same goes for Sun. We know this for a fact. Miguel's OOXML affinity, for instance, is a big pain in the neck to them.

Novell informed several different 'camps' of FOSS developers about the agreement with Microsoft before it got signed. Mono and Samba developers, for instance, knew about it in advance and had time to voice their opinion. Jeremy Allison told us that he regretted not protesting more loudly.

Ron Hovsepian and other top executives tried to explain to leaders of several projects (primarily those impacted by the Microsoft deal) what that agreement all about. It was essential in order for friction to be reduced before the bomb is finally dropped. After all, Novell needed to make sure that, at least in the future, if possible, these projects will could continue working with Novell. It's collaboration under Microsoft's claws.

People who are associated with the FSF knew about this deal in advance as well (at least 2 of them). The legality questions -- specially w.r.t. GPLv2 -- was explained, but the wound was well understood by Hovsepian et al who disregarded it. There was too much at stake and the GPL wasn't a priority high enough.

The Theory



Some believe that he idea of the Novell/Microsoft agreement came from IBM and Oracle. They went to Novell with the following plan: Microsoft would be very much interested in two things with Novell: polluting/diluting the Linux brand and message (Microsoft could also have a dent in the Linux market). This is always overlooked,

“Microsoft is very much interested in Novell's IP. Remember SCO?”Microsoft is very much interested in Novell's IP. Remember SCO? Remember e-directory? Remember Netware, Groupwise, etc? Well, Novell has a very nice IP portfolio that many companies of similar yield cannot enjoy. In short, that agreement was a boon for Microsoft but we all know this.

From the other side, the whole plan was a poker game that would tie down the hands of Microsoft with Novell and in the end neutralising Microsoft's IP while IBM and Oracle could attack.

"Perhaps", says the source, "and I would tend to buy into that option, Novell was quickly overthrown by Microsoft's dance of the dead. I don't know.

"The ultimate plan was to strangle Microsoft's IP and that it was all the idea of IBM and Oracle."

Take this part with a grain of salt and decide for yourself if it makes sense to you. It sure seems to have struck a nerve with Novell's CEO.

A Reader's Take



One reader who was intrigued with the first part about possible secrets behind the Microsoft-Novell deal wrote:

"It sounds as if the whole point of that deal was the patent protection element that Microsoft supposedly slipped in at the last minute and to which Novell didn't really agree and sloughs off as unimportant. I'll have to wait and see.

"The comment I really wanted to make here is that I am not really surprised at all at IBM's involvement here. First, in the days prior to Microsoft's monopoly, IBM had a similar monopoly in the market for mainframe hardware. They employed similar tactics to Microsoft to fend off competition that wanted to make compatible hardware. See Amdahl. It was IBM who coined the tactic of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Part of the reason Gates took such a hard-core stance in the anti-trust case was that he saw what happened to IBM after they complied with the anti-trust decision that went against them.

"I suppose it's a bit unreasonable to think that a leopard could completely change its spots. While IBM has undeniably done some important things to promote Linux, one should never forget that their motivation isn't out of any love for free software. They use Linux as a competitive tool against Microsoft. There is no love lost between these two companies. Consider what happened with OS/2, which was originally a joint project between IBM and Microsoft. Even more recently, consider the time when Microsoft announced their Palladium project, which is embodied in Vista. IBM came out and tried to assuage the fears of the Linux camp that they would be locked out by announcing support for "Trusted Computing." In the current scenario, obviously without knowing any of the details, I suppose I would nonetheless be safe to say that the Novell-Microsoft deal is something that Novell gets credit for initiating - "coopetition." That used to have such a nice ring to it, but not anymore."

Novell pisses on GNU/Linux codebase since 2006

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