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Microsoft Businesses Software SuSE Linux

Microsoft's SUSE Coupons Have No Expiry Date 298

Posted by Zonk
from the oh-is-it-ever-a-trap dept.
mw13068 writes "In a recent article in the Seattle Post Intelligencer FSF General Council Eben Moglen points out that the Microsoft SUSE coupons have no expiration date. The result? 'Microsoft can be sure that some coupons will be turned into Novell in return for software after the effective date of GPL 3. Once that has happened, patent defenses will, under the license, have moved out into the broad community and be available to anybody who Microsoft should ever sue for infringement.' Groklaw is also covering the story in it's inimitable way."
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Microsoft's SUSE Coupons Have No Expiry Date

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 18, 2007 @10:16PM (#19187465)
    Google says 11,000 people also misspelt Expirey.
    • by h2g2bob (948006)
      Nah, they're all just dupes of this...
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by megaditto (982598)
      Facts:

      Expirey Goatse -- 2 hits on Google
      Expiry Goatse -- 14,500+ hits

      Conclusion:

      As a spelling nazi you are x7,500 times more likely to crave goatse than someone who cannot spell. But you probably already knew that about yourself, you pervie
  • Expirey? (Score:3, Informative)

    by nlitement (1098451) on Friday May 18, 2007 @10:16PM (#19187467)
    Why doesn't anyone at least proofread the title? What's "expirey" anyway?
  • Great, (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Watson Ladd (955755) on Friday May 18, 2007 @10:19PM (#19187485)
    But could they only apply to GPL v2 software? Does anyone know the wording of one of these cupons?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by WarlockD (623872)
      FTFA

      As you can see in the section I highlighted, the minute someone turns in a voucher after GPLv3 is in effect, Microsoft will be granting a patent license to everyone, not just Novell's paying customers: "the patent license you grant is automatically extended to all recipients of the covered work and works based on it". Voila. I hope your PHB understands this.


      Will anyone enter into such a deal with Microsoft now? Doesn't this explain why Microsoft suddenly began talking publicly about patents and

      • Re:Great, (Score:5, Interesting)

        by trianglman (1024223) on Friday May 18, 2007 @10:55PM (#19187699) Journal
        From having read Moglen's blog and a number of other interviews/articles of/about him, GPL3 is in its final draft and will be released in June (IIRC). It closes the loophole Novell used, and not only does what is described in this article, but also, could make Microsoft a Linux distributor, subject to GPL, et. al.

        As far as the MS/Novell deal, Novell paid a small sum (relatively speaking), Microsoft paid a much larger sum, in part for these coupons which they are reselling. I forget the numbers but they should be easy to google.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Sorry, forgot the blog link - http://emoglen.law.columbia.edu/blog [columbia.edu]
        • by stinerman (812158)
          FTA it seems that MSFT doesn't believe that their coupons make them a distributor of any of Novell's software. I'm not too clear on what the coupons are, so I'm not so sure that MSFT can be taken to task in this manner.

          Thoughts?
          • by jp10558 (748604)
            I'm not a lawyer, but I still don't see how this makes MS a distributor.

            As this has been explained, you do something to get a Voucher. The voucher is for support as far as I can see as GPLed stuff is still free. MS hands you a piece of paper, and they have distributed a piece of paper. But the paper isn't GPLed.

            You give the paper to Novell, who then gives you the software. You go to (novell or MS) for support.

            I just don't see where in any of this MS is even touching software, much less distributing GPLed so
            • Re:Great, (Score:5, Informative)

              by trianglman (1024223) on Friday May 18, 2007 @11:42PM (#19187959) Journal
              Like the person above you quoted, Microsoft wouldn't exactly be a "distributor", they would be a "conveyor" by giving access and patent litigation protection to a distribution of a GPLv3 piece of software. Thus every other copy of that software would then be protected from patent litigation, no matter who is using it. Thus the paper itself doesn't have to be under GPLv3 to make MS subject to the license. Mind you this would still have to be upheld in court, if Microsoft thought it could fight it. IANAL, but from everything I've read MS is either going to have to cancel this Novell deal completely, and revoke those coupons (don't know if that is possible in the Novell deal or not), or bend over and say thank you, either now or 3+ years of litigation from now.
            • I'm not a lawyer, but I still don't see how this makes MS a distributor.

              They don't have to be a "distributor" under the GPLv3; what matters is that Novell is.

              Furthermore, intent matters under the law. If Microsoft and SuSE are using coupons in a way to knowingly evade the intent of the GPLv2, a court may well find that they are a distributor.

              It seems to me that the voucher is like a gift card - Once I give you the gift card, any transactions are between you and the vendor and I have nothing to do with them
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by maxume (22995)
        The deal is apparently for a few hundred million dollars:

        http://www.linuxdevices.com/news/NS3470257929.html [linuxdevices.com]

        To put that in context, Microsoft, each month, has more than a billion dollars in profits. Microsoft sees the deal as a cheap hedge, and probably doesn't mind that it stirs the waters a bit.
    • Good point. Unless I'm mistaken, if Novell chooses to continue to distribute SUSE under GPLv2, then any new patent-related provisions of GPLv3 simply don't apply. Even if the individual authors of the numerous programs included in SUSE switch to GPLv3, Novell could just maintain their own versions based on the last release made under GPLv2.

      Any flaws in this scenario? I'm by no means an expert.
      • Just one. (Score:3, Informative)

        by WarlockD (623872)
        Linus says "You know what, GPL3 is where I like it, so 2.8 is going to be it"
        Heck, what about GNU? Can't have linux without GCC or the lib. Unless Novel wants to fully fork their distro, they don't have much of a choice. Someone is going to use GPL3.
        • by QuantumG (50515)
          It really depends if it is just GNU who switch to GPL3 or a lot of other people.

          Novell could conceivably continue development on the GPL2 versions of the GNU software.. they couldn't conceivably do the same for all the other free software in the world.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by stinerman (812158)
          Linux will never be GPLv3 because quite a bit of code in it is GPLv2 only (rather than GPLv2 or later). In order to release the entire kernel under GPLv3, all contributors would have to be contacted and asked if the code can be licensed as such. Anyone who can't be reached or does not agree to the license change could derail the entire thing. If Linus was still staunchly for it (which all signs point to that he doesn't like it), he'd have to strip out GPLv2 code and rewrite it with GPLv3 code.
          • and that one may be Solaris.

            hehe... covered two movies in one post. :)
            • by stinerman (812158)
              Indeed.

              If Solaris is licensed under GPLv3, I'll be making the move to Nexenta [gnusolaris.org] as soon as it is stable enough to run on my system. Better yet would be if Debian co-opted it and created a GNU/OpenSolaris distro, much like their GNU/kFreeBSD variant.
          • not an issue (Score:3, Informative)

            by nanosquid (1074949)
            If Linus was still staunchly for it (which all signs point to that he doesn't like it), he'd have to strip out GPLv2 code and rewrite it with GPLv3 code.

            AFAIK, GPLv3 and GPLv2 code can be linked, so nothing needs to be stripped. If they can't track down the author for some old piece of code, they can just leave it under GPLv2.

            So, they could probably put a large chunk of the existing code under GPLv3 plus all new code, making the kernel effectively GPLv3 in its entirety (of course, you're free to use the GP
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by mrchaotica (681592) *

              AFAIK, GPLv3 and GPLv2 code can be linked...

              If and only if the GPLv2 code contains the "or any later version" clause -- which most of the kernel code doesn't. For the kernel to switch to v3, either all developers need to agree to it, or the code written by the ones who don't has to be stripped out and re-implemented. Without Linus's support, switching to v3 would be impossible (because he owns so much of the code). Even with his support, it will be difficult.

      • Only one: It will become increasingly difficult to maintain as applications go through major versions and Novell needs to keep its GPL2 forks compatible with the GPL3 versions.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by cortana (588495)
        A lot of the software that they distribute is licensed under "GPLv2 or later". Novel can't just arbitrarily chanage the license of software they distribute.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by stinerman (812158)
        If Novell so chooses to only distribute software under GPLv2, they are certainly welcome to do so. The downside is that they will be stuck maintaining the GPLv2 versions of GCC, GDB, binutils, etc. All GNU software will be GPLv3 as soon as the license is finalized. In effect, Novell would have to fork all of the GNU tools or find a suitable replacement for them under a more permissive license. They'll need to reinvent the wheel each time an advance is made in the GPLv3 line for their old toolchain.
        • Re:Great, (Score:4, Insightful)

          by notamisfit (995619) on Saturday May 19, 2007 @12:20AM (#19188149)
          As I've stated before, I really don't see what the downside here is. GCC just did a huge update, but GCC5 is a long time a-comin', glibc's rock steady, most of the toolchain stuff is stable and has been for the last five to ten years, Emacs 22 is vaporware, and I think we'd all prefer if Bash didn't update anymore. The Novell-MS deal is valid for five years, and Novell can do that standing on their heads with what they've got. The stuff users actually use might be a different area, but KDE's ultimately going to go the way Qt goes (haven't heard anything), and Novell's got enough pull in GNOME's development and/or the technical expertise to maintain a separate desktop if the pull doesn't go their way.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by AJWM (19027)
        Novell could just maintain their own versions based on the last release made under GPLv2.

        Any flaws in this scenario? I'm by no means an expert.


        Technically, no. Practically, yes.

        To do this, Novell would have to build up a development staff that rivaled Microsoft's in size. They wouldn't be able to simply backport GPLv3 fixes, that'd be copyright infringement, they'd have to go the whole isolation, abstraction, filtration route and rewrite updates from scratch. For lots and lots of packages, including the
    • by Tuoqui (1091447)
      I am pretty sure that the Novell distribution will use entirely GPLv2 code. If any GPLv3 code makes its way into Novell then both Novell and Microsoft will probably end up dead in the water.
  • by grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Friday May 18, 2007 @10:26PM (#19187529) Homepage Journal

    When I was a wee lad of 5 or 6, my grandpa would sit me on his lap and tell me about life and learning. He'd say things like "Boy, always treat people as you'd like them to treat you" or "A penny saved is a penny earned".
    My favourite one was "Boy, never, ever misspell the word "expiry" or you'll look like a fucking retard."

    I sure miss Grandpa.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by hcmtnbiker (925661)
      My grandpa told me "Boy, never, ever use double quotation marks inside a quote, you'll look like a bigger fucking retard then the person who misspelled expiry"

      ;)
    • That he played a banjo and sang "...and keep good company".
  • IANAL - But, usually when you agree upon a contract, its for the terms as presented at the time, and any change, like this - would void the contract? No? So the coupons are invalid with the introduction of GPLv3?
    • Re:Well (Score:5, Interesting)

      by click2005 (921437) on Friday May 18, 2007 @10:36PM (#19187601)
      The vouchers can be exchanged for Suse Linux which currently uses GPLv2. When the linux kernel switches to GPLv3 they will have to release newer versions of Suse with GPLv3 (or fork off the current GPLv2 licensed tree and be stuck with an old kernel). If a single person exchanges a voucher after Suse switches to GPLv3, everyone gets protection. The MS voucher cant change the license that Suse comes with. Its possible the vouchers specify which version of Suse they can be exchanged for but this appears to not be the case.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by QuantumG (50515)

        When the linux kernel switches to GPLv3....
        It will be a bit chilly in Hell.

        • by killjoe (766577)
          Don't be so sure. Maybe even linus will wake up after this. You'd think the whole bitkeeper fiasco would have thought him the importance of free software but apparently it didn't.

          On the other hand he may not care about anybody else getting sued, as long as he isn't sued he might not care.
          • by QuantumG (50515)
            Or maybe the extensive cost of hunting down every contributor and getting them to sign a form will prevent it.

            Ya think?

      • Contracts Law (Score:4, Insightful)

        by GodInHell (258915) * on Saturday May 19, 2007 @01:43AM (#19188497) Homepage
        Wow, this sounds great - MS makes a stupid contract and gest BORKED when the GPL team change the license. Except.. this is a really one sided (as in straw man) position.


        IAJALS*, but contracts are always subject to interpretation as to meaning and intent. There are rules (which are silly, generally) limiting what can and cannot be brought in as evidence of intent - but terms like "advantadge of the bargain" and "intent of the parties" weigh heavily on judges minds when they look on contracts like this. One of the big principles of law is that there is no such thing as "magic words" in law that force parties to subject themselves to unfair (technically "inequitable") results. -actually, property law is an exception to that.. deeds are very formulaic under most state systems, but that's just real estate, which is not touched here-

        Here MS has granted a limited liscense.. there is ample evidence as to intent at the time of the contract formation (many press releases from all concerned parties) and then this defense is practially a template for how to show bad faith on the part of a contracting partner. As discussed above, Novell has little / no option except to distribute under the 3.0 GPL, but doing so subjects their partner to very harsh terms which are explicity intended to fuck them over. That is a text-book worthy demonstration of abusive languge in a contract.

        I'm not saying the FSF folks don't know what they're doing - they're very clever and this is sharp stuff - but this is no one sided tidal wave bearing down on MS, and they do have their own lawyers (as you may have heard), who are also very smart (and they drink the blood of virgins.. so bonus evil points).

        -GiH


        * = I am just a law student

        • Re:Contracts Law (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Compuser (14899) on Saturday May 19, 2007 @03:21AM (#19188857)
          Except there is ample evidence that MS higher-ups were warned ahead of Novell deal of this exact predicament. By Moglen himself. In person.
          So if MS wants to argue the intent thing, they may have a problem. I am sure MS will find a way to get out of this but arguing over intent
          is not likely to be it. Nobody turned around and, as you so eloquently put it, "fucked them over". They knew damn well what they were getting
          into ahead of time.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by AJWM (19027)
          MS, ... have their own lawyers (as you may have heard), who are also very smart

          Actually, given the percentage of lawsuits that MS gets involved in that they end up losing or settling out of court (at their cost) on, I'm not sure that description is accurate.

          Or maybe it's just that MS does so much stupid/illegal/etc stuff that even smart lawyers can't protect them from all the consequences.

          The problem is that MS essentially wrote a contract that procures distribution of unspecified versions of SLES (or if s
  • Of course these coupons don't have an expirey date because there is no such a thing! On the flipside, I think you just developed a new adjective. Imagine:

    "You're so expirey today!"

    Okay, maybe not.

  • Good news for Digg (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrsam (12205) on Friday May 18, 2007 @11:36PM (#19187931) Homepage

    From TFA:

    [ A spokesman for a Microsoft-funded trade group ] disputed the assertion that Microsoft's distribution of Suse Linux service and support coupons makes it a Linux distributor.

    "They're not distributing Linux," Wilder said. "They're providing somebody access to a service but they're not providing copies of Linux on a disk, and they're not providing somebody access to Linux for the purpose of download, and so they're not engaged in any distribution."





    Great news! Let's start all posting the AACS key to Digg, again. After all, you won't be distributing AACS yourself, and you are not going to provide access to download anything.


    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jellie (949898)
      I had the same reaction when I read that sentence. If I twist their own logic... can't I distribute Windows keys, because that's only "providing somebody access to a service"? I'll tell them to find their own copy to download, but the key is legitimate!
  • by Chronus (201970) on Saturday May 19, 2007 @12:02AM (#19188073)
    Okay, this sounds like bullshit. I have two main points to make and I'd like to get an answer to these reservations.

    I don't think that these coupons would be effected by the change over to GPL3. I'm betting they're a not too hard legal fight away, tops, from legally declaring that these coupons were released for a particular legal/business situation and making them not count for GPL3 versions of the product.

    And even if this all goes down the way groklaw says it will, I don't believe you could mount an effective legal challenge against Microsoft when they invalidate all the vouchers and offer either a refund or a product of equal monetary value.

    I also kind of get the feeling that if these guys waited they coulda sprung this on Microsoft at the first legal challenge they offered and totally took the advantage or at lest made a nice high profile case with more amusing geeky stories following it up. Now, I think the Microsoft legal beagles will shut this down before it comes to anything.

    It happens.
  • So, if understand correctly this part of Groklaw discussion
    As you can see in the section I highlighted, the minute someone turns in a voucher after GPLv3 is in effect, Microsoft will be granting a patent license to everyone, not just Novell's paying customers:
    protection against MS-expected-patent-infringement will be available only if kernel is released under GPLv3. Linus does not seem to be very much inclined towards GPLv3 the last I read about it. Am I missing anything here?
    Will it lead to some pe
    • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Saturday May 19, 2007 @12:49AM (#19188295) Homepage Journal

      protection against MS-expected-patent-infringement will be available only if kernel is released under GPLv3

      The GNU part of the userland will definitely go to GPLv3, and that is as much a part of linux as the kernel.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by slash.duncan (1103465)
      Five points.

      1) I'm skeptical this will force MS into anything in regard to the GPLv3, except /maybe/ if MS continues to distribute coupons after something critical goes GPLv3, in part because I think it likely a court will hold that the agreement was made before the license change and MS can't be held to an ex pos facto license change, and in part because it's really still up in the air whether what they are doing would legally be distribution or not -- it may not be, and no opinions posted here are likely
  • "So, in summary, Novell will be protected for the long haul, and Microsoft will be endangered for the long haul by GPL 3, and that's as it should be."

    You can pan-fry Novell's ass too for all I care. They knew what they were getting into and went ahead with it anyway. Thing I don't get is how Microsoft's army of lawyers missed this.
  • Obviously, Moglen is a smart guy, and I have to assume his theory here is at least plausible. But it seems to me that someone could make a counter argument that would also be plausible.

    So it's something to be worked out in endless litigation. Look at how long the SCO trial has gone on, how expensive it's been, and how little substance there seems to have been in the claim.

    In this video clip Moglen describes his take on MS's strategy:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YExl9ojclo [youtube.com]

    The point, he argues, is to spl
    • by QuantumG (50515)
      That's some great stuff. I really love listening to Eben Moglen.. he has such a great law professor tone. Unforutnately, the same tone puts many people to sleep before they hear what it is he is saying. Business people.
      • by astrashe (7452)
        As more time passes, my opinion of Moglen rises -- in a lot of ways, I think he's one of the most central people in the free software movement. A lot of times what he says seems too radical at first, but in the end I come to realize that he's probably right.

      • by grcumb (781340)

        That's some great stuff. I really love listening to Eben Moglen.. he has such a great law professor tone. Unforutnately, the same tone puts many people to sleep before they hear what it is he is saying. Business people.

        Caveat Snoozor. I don't think 'I slept through the briefing' is acceptable as a defence in a court of law, even for business people.

        That excuse is reserved for presidents and cabinet members.

  • Danger of the GPL? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Kaenneth (82978) on Saturday May 19, 2007 @02:37AM (#19188681) Homepage Journal
    What if the GPL were changed requiring any distributor to give ONE HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS to the user?

    Could a user legally force a developer who released software under a prior GPL version, with the future version clause included, to pay such a sum?

    From Wikipedia... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contract [wikipedia.org]
    If the terms of the contract are uncertain or incomplete, the parties cannot have reached an agreement in the eyes of the law.[19] An agreement to agree does not constitute a contract, and an inability to agree on key issues, which may include such things as price or safety, may cause the entire contract to fail. However, a court will attempt to give effect to commercial contracts where possible, by construing a reasonable construction of the contract.[20]
    Courts may also look to external standards, which are either mentioned explicitly in the contract[21] or implied by common practice in a certain field.[22] In addition, the court may also imply a term; if price is excluded, the court may imply a reasonable price, with the exception of land, and second-hand goods, which are unique.
    If there are uncertain or incomplete clauses in the contract, and all options in resolving its true meaning have failed, it may be possible to sever and void just those affected clauses if the contract includes a severability clause. The test of whether a clause is severable is an objective test - whether a reasonable person would see the contract standing even without the clauses.

    By allowing major modification against the will of one of the parties, is the GPL "Incomplete"? Would this standard would allow a distributor to not be bound by clauses in a contract that were not even existant at the time of the contracts inception?

    With the GPL's 'viral' nature, wouldn't it be a huge liability for anyone to agree to such an open ended contract?

    Could arguing this case damage Open Source, by showing a possible danger of contributing anything under the GPL?

    Not saying the GPL should change however it wants, however, allowing one party to an agreement to unilaterally change the terms after the fact is a bad idea. Unless you want your rent to triple, and still be bound to your lease, and you lease extended to 99 years, payable in advance.
    • by nanosquid (1074949) on Saturday May 19, 2007 @04:46AM (#19189207)
      What if the GPL were changed requiring any distributor to give ONE HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS to the user?

      Presumably, distributors would simply choose not to distribute under the new license. And they can always choose not to distribute the software at all, just like people can choose not to sell or buy new versions of Microsoft software that may come under new licensing terms.

      Could a user legally force a developer who released software under a prior GPL version, with the future version clause included, to pay such a sum?

      First, the developer can change the license and just strike the "or later" clause for future releases if he likes since he owns the code.

      Second, the standard clause says "or later", which means that you can continue to distribute under the old version.
  • by harlows_monkeys (106428) on Saturday May 19, 2007 @02:52AM (#19188757) Homepage
    It's very simple for Microsoft to deal with this. Let's say Linux goes GPLv3, and SuSE is on 10.7 by then, which is the last GPLv2 version. SuSE 10.8 is GPLv3.

    You get one of the coupons. You wait a couple years, and by then the current SuSE is 11.2.

    You turn in your coupon.

    And guess what? Microsoft or Novell or whoever handles fulfilling the coupons sends you a bright new shiny copy of SuSE 10.7.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by houghi (78078)
      First it is SUSE, not SuSE
      Second There is only SUSE 10. The next will be SUSE 11. That is SLES and SLED for you
      Third, the versions you talk about is openSUSE. openSUSE 10.3 Alpha 4 just came out and is unrelated to this whole deal.
      There are no coupons for openSUSE. You can just download it.

      Now SLES or SLED are valid for 7 years anyway.

      Also understand that these coupons buy you one year of free updates on SLES or SLED. Now what if in 8 years they are at SUSE 14 and you recieve a coupon from Microsoft. What m
  • Granny Weatherwax (Score:4, Interesting)

    by chthon (580889) on Saturday May 19, 2007 @03:12AM (#19188827) Homepage Journal

    The Granny Weatherwax way : she doesn't have the vampire in her blood, the vampire has her in his blood.

  • Expiry Dates (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ajs318 (655362) <sd_resp2@NOspAm.earthshod.co.uk> on Saturday May 19, 2007 @07:38AM (#19189883)
    No expiry date? I should hope not!

    It's bad enough when gift vouchers have an expiry date. The way I see it, when I buy someone a gift voucher from a store, I am lending the store money; and by slipping the gift voucher inside a birthday card, I am transferring the debt to a third party. It's not fair for the store to dictate that they will refuse to honour the debt after a certain date.

    What's worse, I bet if I took out one of the same store's payment cards (not sure why I'd want to: only valid in their own and other participating retailers' outlets, and up to twice the interest rate of a normal credit card, looks a poor value proposition to me), I bet they wouldn't like it if I said something like "If I haven't paid you back in full within 12 months, I'm not going to pay you anything at all".

    Why should the store, as my debtor, be allowed to get away with imposing an expiry date on a gfit voucher? THEY OWE ME (or the recipient of the gift voucher) MONEY, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!

    Disclaimer: I Am Not An Economist (But I Am Tight With Money).

There is hardly a thing in the world that some man can not make a little worse and sell a little cheaper.

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