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openSUSE and Microsoft



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November 9, 2006 5:43 am

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Last week Novell and Microsoft announced a cooperation. I’d like to write a bit about what the announcement means especially for openSUSE.

The announcement covers three areas:

  • A technical cooperation agreement were Novell and Microsoft will work together in the areas of virtualization, web services management and document format compatibility.
  • A patent cooperation.
  • A business cooperation between Novell and Microsoft

The business cooperation does not directly affect us at openSUSE at all.

The technical cooperation affects us in so far that the outcome of the work will end finally in the openSUSE distribution, e.g. the changes will go in the OpenOffice repository and then find its way into openSUSE. Far more important is that Microsoft and Novell do work together and will setup a research facility where experts from both companies will work together with customers and the community.

Under the technical cooperation Microsoft and Novell will work together to improve the interoperability of both Windows and Linux. Currently you can run Windows virtualized on Linux but the other way round is not working – now Microsoft and Novell will work together to support this. Additionally the virtualization support is going to be better optimized.

Most users have to exchange documents with people running Microsoft Windows. The collaboration on the filter for Office Open XML will ensure that this works smoothly for them. OpenOffice.org will continue to use Open Document Format by default and Novell will continue to invest in improving it.

I doubt that many of us will benefit from the Web services for managing physical and virtual servers. I find it interesting to see that Microsoft will develop tools to manage Linux systems.

For working together with each other and the community, there’s one road block that Novell and Microsoft had to resolve – patents. The patent cooperation is controversial for many people. Note that I personally think that software patents in its current form are completely wrong and should all be invalid – but since they exist, we have to work with them somehow.

We have an internal intellectual property review process at openSUSE for quite some time already that checks all packages, this covers both contributions by internal and external developers. Due to this announcement, we will not change that process in any way at all. If our reviewers find packages that would infringe a patent they will take the necessary actions independent of who owns the patent. The normal way to handle a patent infringement is to find prior technology to invalidate the patents, rework the code to design around the infringement, or as last resort remove the functionality.

There’s one exception where we do ship code that potentially infringes patents – and Red Hat seems to do the same thing in this example: If the patent is declared by a party to be completely open for any open
source software, like IBM gave a royalty free license for GPL software with some patents regarding register allocation in GCC and RCU in the Linux kernel, then we would consider allowing the code to go in.

We’re also shipping code that we have contracted like the proprietary – closed source – RealPlayer where our contract with Real allows the distribution and RealPlayer contains as far as I’m aware licensed code.

We have basically two different groups that the patent cooperation addresses, customers and developers, so let’s look separately at them:

A number of our potential customers had serious concerns that especially Microsoft would sue them if they use Linux code and Microsoft would claim patents are infringed by Linux code – as SCO sued Autozone and DaimlerChrysler as Linux users (not for patents but I think this is something that gave a bad example). With the new agreement, they can be sure that Microsoft will not sue them, even if Novell had shipped this code with their Linux distribution before.

Open source developers write code – and nobody can ever check all the patents that are out there. If they wrote code that infringed Microsoft’s patents, then Microsoft could sue them, but due to the Novell/Microsoft agreement they are protected now. I still expect that the developers – once becoming aware of an infringement – change the code so that it can be freely distributed e.g. under the GPL.

The statement here is two-fold: Microsoft will not sue individuals – the patent pledge does not cover companies – that are either a) non-commercial developers, e.g. work in their spare time and not for
money or b) write code that ends in our SUSE Linux Enterprise distribution (this covers also individuals receiving money for their open source work). In the first case (non-commercial developer) this patent pledge is not revocable by Microsoft – unless the developer chooses to pursue patent ligitation against Microsoft. This is a standard clause that can be found also in many open source licenses, one example is the “Open Software License”.

Let me state clearly: We do not think that Novell’s Linux distributions violate valid patents – but if they do, we do change the code to avoid or work around the patent. Meanwhile we have some means in place to protect customers and developers better. So, it’s some kind of important insurance.

We did not expect that Microsoft would sue individuals. But who would have known a couple of years ago that the record industry is going after individuals downloading or copying music and driving them in bankruptcy. Therefore the agreements consider a promise not to sue.

Novell is a founding member of the Open Invention Network (OIN) which was formed to protect many commonly distributed open source and free software packages, including Linux, from legal attacks, no matter where an attack comes from. OIN provides coverage to the entire Linux industry by providing a form of retaliatory protection for Linux customers, developers and companies that might be targeted in patent litigation.

Novell is strongly committed to OIN and will continue in its support, we are one of the members that brought in a significant patent pool to protect Linux. The Novell/Microsoft agreement strengthens the protection of our customers.

I think that with this agreements between Novell and Microsoft the intellectual property situation is not worse than before – for some users and developers the status quo has not changed and for others it is improved.

Microsoft is historically the arch-enemy of Linux. So, is this “sleeping with the enemy”, “Novell selling out” – or a 180 degree turn of Microsoft? I think all of us fear Microsoft and therefore are very cautious about every step they do. I’m interested whether this is a first step in a new direction and others will follow – or just a trap? Microsoft is still competition and both Novell and Microsoft state this. But they want to make Linux and Windows work together seamlessly so that the customer is not the looser in this competition (see the technical cooperation). Microsoft is facing for some time an image problem, investigation from the EU lawyers about monopolistic behaviour and faces competition from Oracle and Google – one can only guess what has brought this change in direction by Microsoft.

So, let us continue to work as before and build the finest distribution – and beat Microsoft Windows 😉

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5 Comments

  1. By:Marcus

    Andreas,

    “Currently you can run Windows virtualized on Linux but the other way round is not working” I’m fairly sure that this is working using VmWare?

    have fun

    Marcus

    ps looking forward to the beta 2 announcement today

  2. That was my thought too, but then I remembered:

    Windows on Xen is ‘technical preview’
    Linux on MS Virtual Server is not working(?)

    VMWare is not a MSFT or NOVL product, so doesn’t count. I’m guessing.

  3. By:Andreas Jaeger

    Yes, it works with VMware. What I mean here is virtualization without VMWare as you do with Xen under Linux.

    Sorry, beta2 will be out tomorrow.

  4. By:Chris Cox

    What is Novell going to do now that they’ve alienated the open source community though? It could take quite a bit of time to repair. In fact, it’s probably going to cost Novell more money than they’ve ever spent on marketing in their entire lifetime to repair this one.

    I think the best/right thing to do is figure out how to let SUSE go (distance themselves/Novell from SUSE). Just for SUSE’s sake. Or… we could start a fork. We need to preserve the hard work. That’s the honorable thing to do. Right now Novell is looking at a very real possibility of forking everything and supporting everything solo… we could create a SUSE fork that is still about community (can’t be called SUSE of course, and I am quite concerned that Novell would attach such an effort… worse than Microsoft).

    I guess you may have the answer to what Novell is going to do? What is Novell going to do?

    Having help start one of the largest software companies in the world… let me guess:

    1. Novell will handle the problem like any other problem (that is to say, with a total disregard with how problems are solved inside the open source community).

    2. Novell will enjoy a big, huge, fat quarter thanks to Microsoft and advertise this to the world as the “success” of their Microsoft “deal”.

    3. Novell will blame something totally different 2-3 quarters from now when their stock loses over 80% of its value.

    4. Chris gets to take a capital loss (yippee… wasn’t the plan folks).

    If I were you I’d jump ship. I know I’ll help support an effort to form a SUSE fork (money, etc). I’m certain that I’m not the only one. This actually does what you’re wanting to do… create something that beats the tar out of Windows… without the political baggage that Novell has now created for all of us (and it’s huge bag!).

    Or.. if you have a solution on how Novell can repair their reputation.. please share. Personally, I’d love to see it return to the level it was at prior to Nov 2. One other thing that may help is to see some open source community endorsements of the Novell deal. Right now, I don’t think there is a single one. While some have kept silent, I look for more to respond negatively (e.g. Samba style.. and Samba for the most part is VERY pro-Microsoft in many ways). I don’t think we’ve even begun to see the backlash of this typical big-company faux pas.

  5. By:hein

    It is a pity that this agreement is mainly for business customers. Linux is generally lacking some functionality or software that is keeping me from running only Linux on my computer. I still can’t sync my HP Ipaq with windows mobile 5.0 and the software that is available for digital video-editing (Kino, Mandvd, Cinerella etc.) is not comparable to products that you will find running under windows (Pinnacle Studio, Magix Video). It would be great if the developers of Kino and Mandvd would cooperate- combined this could be almost as good as Pinnacle Studio. I find it rather stupid and annoying that I must run 3 or 4 programs to finally get a video DVD from my DV tape: it costs twice as much time to get a video done under linux.

    However I really do not want to run Windows anymore. I am really fed up with this OS and especially the way MS treats its customers. Yesterday I received again an update that wanted to install software to verify if I have an genuine copy of Windows. Although I do have an genuine (Dell OEM) version of Windows XP pro I do not like MS to get any information from me our my computer whatsoever!

    I find it rather strange that Novell is cooperating with Microsoft. In my opinion Microsoft is digging it’s own grave with the newest pile of OS bullshit called Vista. The salesfigures of Vista speak for themselves. If MS did not have all these OEM agreements the software would rot on the shelves. Perhaps the cooperation has some advantages on the short run for business customers that are now running Activedirectory or some other MS crap.

    In my opinion Novell should listen more to its customers and the other Linux users and start coding software to help Linux to get on an even level with MS Windows and not trying to cooperate with MS to make Windows available in Linux. This is really not helping. IBM suffered from interoperatability with OS/2: because OS/2 could run Windows software not a single software company wanted to invest in native OS/2 software. Although the business model of OS/2 as closed source was of course different I still think there is a lesson to be learned from this failure.

    Perhaps some of the items mentioned are off topic, but I hope that some of my suggestions can help Linux a little bit in the right direction. In my opinion the only way to go is to compete with Windows not to cooperate.

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