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Responding to comments on the GPL3 issue



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April 4, 2007 4:55 pm

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A bunch of folks have commented on the recent posting on the GPL3 issue. Thanks for all these comments, pro and con. We know this issue is controversial, and we appreciate the open debate. I’d like to make a few points, based on the comments, and figured I’d do a new post, rather than a really long comment.

First, did we do this deal to promote SUSE Linux Enterprise? Sure. We’re a business and we’re competing in a tough market. This deal is helping to get Linux into areas where it wasn’t before – and that’s good for Linux in general. Every new SUSE deployment is a new Linux deployment. If you’re a Linux developer, isn’t your end goal to see the broadest possible adoption of Linux? Our deal with Microsoft is promoting the expansion of the Linux server base, and, by extension, it’s growing the Linux ecosystem, which means more opportunities to build open source applications for Linux. With more customers using Linux as a result of this deal, there is more feedback into the community about what customers want, which means the Linux operating system gets more functionality that can lead to even broader deployment. We get a virtuous circle.

Second, did we do this to compete with Red Hat? Sure – we’re a business. If we’re going to continue to pay engineers to develop open source code, then we need to grow our revenue. And what we heard from customers was that one way to really differentiate SUSE Linux Enterprise from Red Hat – in a way that matters to customers – was to improve Windows interoperability with Linux. The unfortunate reality is that as much as I – and every other Novell employee – would love to see a world full of 100% Linux-based data centers, that’s just not going to happen any time soon. Almost every data center will have Windows in it. And we believe that every data center will have Linux in it as well. So we figured that, if we could take SUSE Linux Enterprise and make it work better with Windows, then we could provide customers with a reason to choose SUSE Linux Enterprise over Red Hat.

It got really interesting when we added virtualization to the mix. As more customers add virtualization to their environments, they told us that they wanted the flexibility to run Windows virtualized on Linux or Linux virtualized on Windows, but they were concerned about the performance implications. Through our partnership with Microsoft, we’re addressing those performance challenges, and again providing another reason for customers to choose SUSE over Red Hat. We believe we’re already got Red Hat beat on the technical strength of our distribution, the sophistication of our management services, and our award-winning technical support. With Microsoft, we’ve added Windows interoperability to the mix.

Third, we don’t see intellectual property, in general, as big impediment to Linux adoption. That’s been our position for a number of years now. Go back and look at statements we made during the SCO debate, or when we launched our indemnification program. We’ve consistently argued that customers should not avoid Linux because of intellectual property concerns. At the same time, we’ve provided a level of comfort (via indemnification, our patent policy and, now, with the Microsoft agreement) to those customers who do have concerns about the issue. We certainly aren’t out in the market telling customers to use our Linux because it has patent protection from Microsoft. We’re out there telling them to use SUSE Linux Enterprise because it’s a strong distribution that will integrate well into their mixed environments. If the patent agreement with Microsoft means a few more customers than before are willing to take the plunge with Linux, that’s a good thing. But we don’t think patent concerns are driving Linux adoption one way or the other. The deal with Microsoft simply removes the issue from the table for customers.

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Categories: Expert Views, General, PR Blog

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8 Comments

  1. By:Justin

    The old excuse “we are accountable to our stockholders” or “we are a business” does not fly with the open source community, just like an unscrupulous store owner is avoided by residents in a local community. Being ruthless in your dealings with others, such as by hiring a bully to scare customers away from the shop across the street, is not viewed with favor and will not be tolerated by the community. Did you see what happened to the mother penguin that tried to steal another penguin’s baby when hers had died in the “March of the Penguins” documentary? Well, that is what is happening here.

    Besides, wake up, you are playing right into MS hands. You are legitimizing their only viable strategy. They think that they can now claim in court that they in fact have acted to defend their IP, by offering a licensing program, and that some in the community have accepted it. See this post, for example, evidently by a MS insider (purposely using sloppy type):

    http://talkback.zdnet.com/5208-11048-0.html?forumID=1&threadID=32150&messageID=594110&start=-29

    If Novell truly believes that there are no Patent issues with Linux, they need to show it by their actions.

    Also, by implementing support for OOXML in OOo, you have now given MS a key to meet several governments requirements for open document formats, since one of the requirements is that the format is implemented by more than one vendor.

    In closing, I would just like to encourage Novell, pursue an open source alternative to MS Exchange and Share Point Server. Those are Microsoft’s true weapons for locking you and everyone else out of business.

  2. Nice recap and restatement. The points are calm, rational, and play well for Wallstreet.

    Unfortunately, the spin on patents and IP is still focused on Microsoft.

    Why is there still no material mention of Novell’s IP portfolio?

    It seems that Novell is very keen to downplay the UNIX IP. Is this low volume due to the pending SCO (or other) litigation?

    If so, it’s easy enough to say, we won’t comment on Novell’s IP at this juncture due to pending litigation.

    I understand the risk Novell faces from the zealots if Novell rattles it’s IP sabre. But, Novell desperately needs to improve perceptions.

    Many in the FOSS community secretly long for a hero and desire a champion.

    Novell can fill that role but it takes courage. Wallstreet and the FOSS community have in common a respect for leadership. But leadership must be earned. Currently, the perception is that Novell is a junior partner, puppet, or stooge of Microsoft. The current message is weak. Repeating the same message over and over doesn’t make the message any stronger. It just empowers the zealots and bears to deeper depths of insanity.

    The current spin, while perhaps accurate, naively promotes imaginary and irrelevant gap-fillers to capture the news cycle.

    But perhaps this is the Novell strategy.

    “Don’t confront the Microsoft FUD. Keep it alive under the guise of puritanical austerity and spirit of collaboration. Draft behind the big truck.”

    “Let the zealots become part of the marketing campaign… after all, No news is bad news.”

    Spin — “Don’t pay attention to the man (Novell) behind the curtain. Behold, the All Powerful OZ (Microsoft)!!!”

    While it’s a laudable, conservative tactic, it’s also appears as cowardice.

    Ultimately, strategy demands timing and positioning.

    I’d rather be inside the circle, with legitimate reason to remain tight-lipped, than remain on the outside spectating and speculating on the chess board.

    Rich Wermske
    http://www.wermske.com

  3. By:jba

    For more on your questionable American IP law please read:
    Lawrence Lessig’s “Free Culture”

  4. By:RM2

    Yes, lets talk about perceptions. Here is what I think about Novell. Novell is not a person. Novell is a company interested in making money, period. The same can be said about Red Hat. The difference between those two companies is that the people managing Red Hat understand that their financial success depends on them being perceived by the community as a pure open source company. The people managing Novell are a complete different story. Novell started off as a proprietary company with the mission of making a lot of money. And they did, with a very good product. But, unfortunately for them, MS took advantage of the fact that they controlled the client OS and were able to create the perception that things would work better if the client and the server were controlled by the same company. So, MS crushed Novell in the market place. Novell had no clue about open source.

    SuSE, on the other hand, was also a company, but it was more like Red Hat in that they understood that they needed to be part of the open source community. But, SuSE was not perceived by the community to be as pure as Red Hat. SuSE had some proprietary components, such as Yast, and they couldn’t find the courage to open them up. So, while friendly to them, the community didn’t trust them as much as they trusted Red Hat.

    The guys at Ximian were just a bunch of very talented kids having fun and trying to make a buck while doing so. Ximian was perceived as a much more pure open source company than SuSE. However, the community increasingly saw in them one big flaw, their unabashed admiration for Microsoft’s technology and their perceived cavalier attitude towards infringing in their IP.

    So, here is Novell, a company with a lot of money but with a dying business value. MS had beat them in the perception war. They needed to reinvent themselves. They needed to be perceived again as a company with a future. Someone in Novell suggested Linux. After all, IBM and Red Hat were doing well with it. Increasingly, Linux was being perceived as the future of IT. ‘Lets ride that wave’ they thought. So, with they used their fat coffers and bought themselves both SuSE and Ximian, not knowing exactly how this would all work out. They were simply thinking: ‘Here are two successful and talented companies, lets buy them and we’ll figure out what to do with them latter.’ Some preliminary assignments were made and then the Novell’s management sat down to study these interesting creatures they had brought on board. Novell’s board of directors had no clue or interest in open source unless it could make them money, money, and more money, and fast.

    Everyone outside Novell thought they had a good chance. Novell’s former customers thought this was a great move and were hoping to be able to see their beloved Netware open sourced, integrated into Linux, and supported by Novell. I mean, that was the logical strategy. Unfortunately, no one at Novell seemed to understand this. The Ximian guys continued enamored and obsessed with MS’s technology. The one good move made by Novell was to open source the rest of SuSE. When SUSE 10.0 came out they were looking good. However, there was still no strategy in place for open sourcing Netware which is what everyone else was really waiting for.

    Meanwhile, SCO starts their goofy attempt to sue open source out of existence, including Novell. That was just another distraction for Novell and unfortunately it seemed to affect them. Things started to break down inside Novell. Many of those that had made SuSE a success began leaving Novell disenchanted. It was obvious that Novell didn’t know how to manage these fireball creatures they had brought into their company. The Ximian guys were having fun with “cool” projects. And apparently no one was working to create a migration path for the remaining Netware clients. There was no fruit to be seen of the marriage of Novell and Linux. SuSE had always been a leader in implementing the very popular KDE desktop and they had a loyal following of desktop users. However, the Ximian guys had help create Gnome and favored that. With SuSE’s key figures out of the way, the Ximian guys took over and it was announced that SUSE would now use Gnome and its only desktop. Only after a furor ensued from SUSE’s users did Novell realized that this was not a good idea. Many former SUSE users and proponents began distrusting Novell and started to look elsewhere for alternatives.

    Novell’s board of directors watched on increasingly impatient. All they wanted was money, money, and more money, and they wanted it now. In desperation, and undoubtedly, under heavy pressure from the board, their CEO calls up MS and offers them a deal. He was ready to bargain. He was ready to compromise. He agreed to enter into a patent covenant with MS that would give MS a way to fight Linux. They knew full well that this was not allowed by the GPL and that it would be frowned upon by the open source community. They worded it in such a way that it would squeeze through a little loop hole in the license. They knew they would be flamed, but they were ready to take it. They had a more pressing interest at heart than the future prospects of Linux, their own survival as a company.

  5. By:Brent

    “If you’re a Linux developer, isn’t your end goal to see the broadest possible adoption of Linux?”

    And therein lies the divide.

    Many “Linux” developers (aka free software developers) actually don’t hold the “broadest possible adoption” as their end goal. It’s creating a robust 100% Free operating system that is their end goal. But then again, many do hold the end goal of broadest possible adoption. I certainly do, and am willing to give up a few freedoms (like multimedia codecs, proprietary firmware, etc.) to reach that goal. I believe it’s worth it to give up 1% of freedom to foster adoption of a 99% free operating system.

    But I certainly *don’t* think the consequences of Novell’s actions are good for anyone involved in Linux for the mere fact of the legal murkiness the Novell/Microsoft pact throws into our FOSS work. I’m all for collaboration, but I am definitely against anything that Microsoft can leverage when making patent-infringement threats against free software developers.

  6. By:Bruce Lowry

    Hi Shane:

    All I’m saying here is that the patent issue has not been front and center for most of the customers we talk to. Our CEO has been candid in saying that there have been a few cases that he’s aware of where the patent issue was important to customers. And if our arrangement with Microsoft helps those kinds of customers decide to deploy Linux vs. not deploying Linux, we think that’s a win for Linux.

    And our patent policy – initially put foward in October 2004 – is here: https://www.novell.com/company/policies/patent/

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