A wrap up of the weeks Novell/Microsoft action

This week the Free Software Foundation (FSF) announced that it would not be taking Novell to court over their patent deal with Microsoft and its potential infringement of the GPL version 2. Instead the FSF's general counsel, Eben Moglen, announced that they would be pushing through with the finalisation of GPL version 3 which resolves many of the ambiguities present in GPL version 2. This strategy effectively takes the high road in the altercation, a costly and dirty lawsuit brought by the FSF against Novell right now would only harm both camps and potentially leave Novell without a viable operating system if they were to loose. By taking the less confrontational GPL version 3 approach the FSF does not condone Novell's actions but they do give everyone involved some breathing room in order to resolve the issue more constructively.

Once the GPL version 3 is finalised and the majority of GNU Linux codebase (including the kernel) has adopted it Novell will once again be left in a difficult situation. The onus will be on their engineers to back-port all new functionality and security fixes to their existing GPL version 2 compliant code bases rather than incorporating patches from the community which the current process. This is a complex and expensive proposition which could potentially leave them in the dust when it comes to GNU Linux operating system development. Fortunately for Novell given the GPL version 3 time line the effects of the problem will not be experienced for at least a year (if not more), so this is really an issue for the Suse Linux Enterprise Server/Desktop 11 team to ponder and will not seriously impede Novell's current crop of products.

This week also saw a range of announcements by parties related to or effected by the deals.

Novell was quick to release a statement rejecting Steve Balmer's claim that anyone who used Linux effectively owed Microsoft. Considering patents are a fundamental issue in the Novell/Microsoft deal this very public disagreement was baffling to most observers and a sign that the deal was rushed or not fully worked through before it was announced. At the end of the day Microsoft left the issue in the air by stating they agreed to disagree on the matter with Novell. The Gillmor Gang podcast "The Thanksgiving Gang" has a very good section related to the deal that is worth listening to. In it Doc Searls continues to flesh out the humorous idea that Microsoft is now just a legal company masquerading as a software vendor.

Key people within IBM, Red Hat and Ubuntu have also weighed in on the deal. IBM's Scott Handy in an interview with Linux Watch was pleased to see Microsoft finally acknowledge Linux and viewed their promise to work towards interoperability as good for the entire community. On the other hand was adamant that Microsoft's patent claims were baseless, so hopefully this is a sign that we won't be seeing a similar IBM/Microsoft agreement in the near future. In a more controversial blog posting Mark Webbink of Red Hat obliquely compared the deal with Chamberlain's 1938 agreement with Hitler just prior to the commencement of World War II. He goes to point out what in his opinion are the hidden messages behind the deal and how it maybe an indication that Novell's once strong commitment to open source is now fading. Just to throw the cat amongst the pigeons Mark Shuttleworth of Ubuntu fame recently welcomed any disenchanted Suse developers into the Ubuntu camp ahead of the Ubuntu Developer's Week.

Meanwhile Novell marketing is beginning to shift its emphasis following the deal. Groklaw has a good rundown of how Novell are using the patent agreement as a marketing tool in Europe. Also this week Groklaw posted an excellent article that highlights the fact that anti-Microsoft marketing on the Novell website (such as the 'Unbending the Truth: Things Microsoft Hopes You Won't Notice' page) have mysteriously disappeared or been reworded to take the sting (and meaning) out of the message.