Bonum Certa Men Certa

Let's Speculate: What IP Did Novell License?

Recently, Matthew Aslett has gotten Novell's Justin Steinman to finally open up some about the true nature of the Microsoft-Novell deal, during which time Steinman mentioned an aspect of the deal that we have suspected but hadn't been acknowledged publicly before (regardless of assertions that it was missed - trust me, I've gone back through the site and it wasn't).

“Since we announced the Novell-Microsoft agreement in November, we've always said that the intellectual property agreement provided a foundation for the interoperability between Windows and SUSE Linux Enterprise. This foundation falls into two primary categories: 1) the "covenant not to sue," which provides customers with peace of mind when they deploy SUSE Linux Enterprise; and 2) the IP access necessary for the technical collaboration to deliver interoperability between Windows and Linux. For better or worse, the community and press at-large have focused on #1, although Novell has talked about both categories since we signed the agreement.

“As you know, engineers at Novell and Microsoft are hard at work on our technical collaboration, and we demonstrated the first results at BrainShare in March. But in order to deliver the interoperability between Novell eDirectory and Microsoft Active Directory, as well as the bidirectional virtualization between Windows and SUSE Linux Enterprise, Novell required sanctioned access to Microsoft's code in order to develop open source interoperability without violating Microsoft's intellectual property.

“The Novell-Microsoft agreement is about bridging the worlds of open source and proprietary software, and in order to build this bridge, we've had to do several unique things, including signing an intellectual property agreement that would let Novell's engineers get a look at some of Microsoft's proprietary code. We've also done several other unique things like having Microsoft representatives sell certificates for SUSE Linux Enterprise Server subscriptions to their customers. I'd submit that all of these things are good for the adoption and growth of Linux.


So, Novell needed access to Microsoft IP and code in order to achieve interoperability - for what? Samba was already doing a splendid job of SMB/CIFS and AD integration, and the argument could be made that Mono was doing quite well in its own regard. Even OpenOffice.org had already achieved quite remarkable conversion of Office's previous binary file formats, much to Microsoft's chagrin I would surmise.

Well, there was of course the OOXML that Novell agreed to implement in their version of Novell Open Office - perhaps Novell needed access to MS IP in order to fully implement cryptic specifications like "autoSpaceLikeWord95"? Or maybe they are paying royalties for inclusion of VBA support in OOO, we just don't know for sure - and that of course is a problem in an open development community.

The only hint that I have been still clinging to is the odd 5-year term that hangs over the deal since its announcement, something that conveniently coincides with Microsoft's FAQ on their WSPP program terms and conditions, but otherwise I - and everyone outside of Redmond and Waltham - haven't really a clue, and it seems that Microsoft (and by extension, their Linux Division - Novell) prefer it that way.

Secrecy is unacceptable in an open development model and community, and Novell's (in)actions threaten to stall or even destroy the advance of Free Software. It is of vital importance to the community - and especially any projects accepting Novell code and patches - for Novell to publicly and unequivocally state the details of their Microsoft agreement once and for all. Now.

Then, we can move forward again - with or without Novell on our side. It's already clear which side Microsoft will be on, the losing one.

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