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David Sugar [opinions]

From freedom to slavery; a week of two distros [microsoft] [novell]

While gNewSense enjoys its initial introduction as a fully free as in freedom distribution, it seems at the same time an existing GNU/Linux distribution has turned to slavery. Excuse me a moment, while I remove the metaphorical knife from my back before continuing. Never before has the contrast between software freedom and intellectual slavery been more clear thanks to the proud efforts of gNewSense, and the craven ones of Novell.

In truth from what I see the Novell agreements with Microsoft are about two things. The first is actually relatively benign, at least when compared to the second. The first seems to involve some technical cooperation on making Novell's version of Xen paravirtualization support Microsoft Windows and may also involve some Linux kernel blobs to better support this as well. Technical cooperation also seems to cover Novell and Microsoft working together to embrace and extend (and otherwise contaminate) OpenOffice with Office/XML and better support a weak Microsoft Office plugin for OpenXML. These things are in fact bad enough, although in narrow ways. However, it is in the second thing, in endorsing, participating in, and supporting Microsoft's patent extortion racket, that Novell has truly jumped the shark and pulled a "SCO", and in doing so has become both a danger to freedom everywhere.

Much effort has been made by Novell to give "spin" and "market speak" about what they are doing, and what their patent cooperation agreement means, trying to make it sound as harmless as they possibly can. This alone, and the fact that they will receive revenue directly from Microsoft as part of it, is like a big red warning light saying "danger". It is about "Mono", some of them say, hiding the full truth as well as the fact that Microsoft already has an effective agreement with Novell and Mono users in regard to their existing Royalty-Free agreements with ECMA. What is telling is that nowhere is Mono or C# referenced in what has been shown about their agreements, and more important is what Microsoft, rather than Novell, says about them.

Rather than the deceptions, deliberately false and misleading statements, and half truths we hear from Novell, we can be thankful that Steve Ballmer from Microsoft has chosen to be very clear and explicit about what they (Microsoft) believe this agreement actually means; The distributors of other versions of Linux cannot assure their customers that Microsoft won't sue for patent infringement. "If a customer says, 'Look, do we have liability for the use of your patented work?' Essentially, If you're using non-SUSE Linux, then I'd say the answer is yes," Ballmer said. For Microsoft, it is about patent extortian, and like the neighborhood thug that shakes down local grocery stores looking to pay off the local police, it is about Microsoft trying to find a thin veneer of legitimacy through the help of Novell for enabling its intended thuggery. Thank you so very much Novell.

It is interesting that Novell chooses to say they negotiated this agreement on "behalf" of all software contributors to (and customers) of Novell. Some of my packages are included in SuSE, though, strangely, I do not recall them ever asking me to negotiate this agreement on my behalf. That it claims to only protect "non commercially involved" contributors, it's clear it is about limiting what I can do and to whom I can safely distribute my code through. It's meant to threaten and intimidate those who develop software in freedom, and to control what they will be allowed to do. I do not remember requesting to become Novell's slave, or of desiring to pay a Microsoft slug for the right to practice freedom. As such it is an insult to everyone who has ever contributed code that they now use.

What Novell gains in this patent shakedown is two things. First, they get Microsoft to intimidate their competitors. Further shame on Novell. Second, they get to exchange funny money with Microsoft, and have done so without explicitly doing it as a "cross patent licensing agreement". It means Microsoft gets to raid Novell's remaining technology uncontested in return for a token payment, and it seems deliberately structured in a way to try and avoid triggering the letter of the GPL and section 7, even while knowingly and deliberately violating its spirit and intent. That they should choose so deliberately and carefully to do this also speaks volumes about the kind of people involved in both Novell and Microsoft, of what they are, and of why these repulsive slugs should be avoided and treated as the thugs they are.

For Microsoft, it must seem like a bonanza. They have to pay some minor cash to Novell as part of their "covenant" that is "not" a cross licensing agreement in explicit name, but get to do so still with far less machinations and potential legal risk than was required to fund SCO through their pipe fairy. Speaking of SCO, if anything, they are perhaps to be left as a jilted lover holding all the credit card bills. More important for Microsoft it means they can now try and collect their "Danes Gold" from other GNU/Linux vendors, developers, or anyone else whom they can successfully intimidate. For Novell, hoping to become the "only" legally permitted GNU/Linux vendor, it actually means their GNU/Linux business will now go into decline, and perhaps if they did not cross all the right t's, to go into sudden death under section 4 of the GPL. But Novell does get continued funding as a Microsoft sock puppet the way Microsoft controlls Apple's destiny, and that of Sun. Novell is now to become a defacto "Intellectual Property Licensing" company rather than a software company, and Microsoft is their only real customer.

What we can do, those who believe in freedom, those who use GNU/Linux, or those who everywhere who believe in free markets and reject gangsters and thugs and the destruction such people do to society? First and foremost we must stand together in solidarity and not let the enemies of freedom succeed in their game of divide and conquer. If Novell has violated the letter of the GPL as well as its spirit, those of us who maintain packages that are distributed today as part of SuSE/Novell GNU/Linux must exercise our option to issue cease and desist orders. When dealing with a dog with rabies, even if once a loved family pet, it is best to put such an animal down before it also has the opportunity to infect others. As for thugs like Microsoft, they must be treated as the cancer to business and society that they are.


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