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Why the Novell / MS Deal Is Very Bad 367

jamienk writes "PJ from Groklaw has taken the time to really explain the big picture of the Novell/MS deal and how it all fits into the SCO case and the strategy some have employed to attack Free Software. If you thought PJ was becoming too shrill before, or if you haven't understood what the big deal is with Novell's agreement, it's really worth a read." From the article: "This is Groklaw's 2,838th article. We now have 10,545 members, who have worked very hard to disprove SCO's scurrilous claims, and we did. We succeeded, beyond my hopes when we started. But here's the sad part. As victory is in sight, Novell signs a patent agreement with Microsoft..."
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Why the Novell / MS Deal Is Very Bad

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  • by ( 463190 ) * on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @12:51AM (#17124714) Homepage
    Better explanation here:,1895,2068769, p []

    Novell also retained the unusual right to require SCO to follow its directions to amend, supplement, modify or waive these licenses and, if SCO does not comply, Novell can do so on SCO's behalf.
  • by astrashe ( 7452 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @12:54AM (#17124728) Journal
    Ubuntu isn't made soley by volunteers, although volunteers play a big role in it. A lot of companies pay people to work on linux, and they do it because it fits into their business plan.

    MS is probably never going to come after you for license money. But they might go after big companies that support linux -- IBM, RedHat, etc. And they might scare large enterprise customers away from linux.

    If these things happen, your free ubuntu starts to wither and die. All of a sudden there aren't the hardware drivers you need, the fancy new desktop software, etc.

    Linux is an ecosystem, and all of the parts need to be healthy in order for it to continue. While this situation doesn't threaten you personally, it does effect other vital members of our ecosystem, and if they go down, we're all going to be a lot worse off over the long run,
  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <> on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @12:55AM (#17124730) Homepage Journal
    Nah, this deal affects all of us. It basically says Microsoft is going to start suing users of Linux (except Novell's customers). Not that they are, but it makes people who care about this stuff nervous. As for Ubuntu, well, they could be in for some new and different pain soon. They're putting proprietary video card drivers into the default install of the distro. That's clearly illegal. Kernel developers could sue them. Not that they will either, cause they're pussies. You shouldn't want to run that stuff anyways. If you wanna run proprietary software, go run Windows, or buy a Mac.

  • by DigitalGrandpa ( 1027420 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @01:00AM (#17124772)
    Well, for one thing, Novell owns a company (now a division) called Ximian. The people behind Ximian are the people who originally developed GNOME. I believe that they are still active in the Gnome project. If I were you, I'd think about switching to Kubuntu.
  • The deal (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @01:07AM (#17124816)
    Ok here is the deal as I see it through the eyes of a developer, sysadmin and ultimate decision maker when it comes to our linux environment. I am also the developer of quite a bit of GPL licensed code spread across the globe(not kernel). Novell and MS broke the spirit of the GPL with their little agreement, I don't care if it was legal, bottom line it is not in the community spirit. I will not ever run, recommend others run, help with others issues with any novell distributed software.

    Bottom line I work for pointy haired bosses but they will not under any circumstances question what distro I run in the enterprise...novell put that in your pipe and smoke it. EV1 learned a valuable lesson and Novell should have taken note of what happens when you try to bend the rules.
  • by mabhatter654 ( 561290 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @01:25AM (#17124952)
    Linux can't easily go to GPL3... it is expressly GPL2 without the upgrade clause. Some key developers are DEAD.. you'd have to track down an heir and get them to legally sign over the work to GPL3. Not that parts won't be rewritten, but even then somebody could always claim you "stole" their work by rewriting it under the new license... you'd have the same problems as abandonware apps do now. That's why the FSF sponsored projects require the source be signed over to them and placed on their servers... then they can relicense at will. You of course are free to maintain your own version of your work if you wish, but not the official version.
  • Re:blah blah (Score:5, Informative)

    by burnin1965 ( 535071 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @01:31AM (#17124990) Homepage
    There was some reassuring PR coming out of Novell, however, when Microsoft asked to include a patent deal the negociations should have ended right there. In one of those open letters it states "Novell will make ongoing payments of at least $40 million over five years to Microsoft, based on percentages of Novell's Open Platform Solutions and Open Enterprise Server revenues".

    So basically anyone who purchases Novell's Open Platform Solutions is also paying a Microsoft tax, as Novell's new partner Steve Balmer noted, "because open-source Linux does not come from a company -- Linux comes from the community -- the fact that that product uses our patented intellectual property is a problem for our shareholders" and Steve expects to be paid.

    No mitigation of infringement, no proof of infringement, no analysis of the patents to even verify if Microsoft actual has valid IP. Nope, but Novell does us all a favor and bypasses all that boring routine. Thanks but no thanks.

    Imagine a world where MS and Linux worked even 25% together than they do now.

    That is easy to imagine, linux would be where OS/2 is. That's how Microsoft cooperates.

    I look at where linux is today and I don't think it needs anything from Microsoft.
  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <> on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @01:59AM (#17125164) Homepage Journal
    Linux supports more devices "out of the box" than any other operating system ever has. [] Yes, even FreeBSD.

    The other key highlight of this talk was:

    Closed source Linux kernel modules are illegal.
    Closed source Linux kernel modules are unworkable.
    Closed source Linux kernel modules are unethical.

    So who the hell is this guy? He's Greg Kroah-Hartman. Who the hell is that? He's a kernel developer. His name appears 149 times in my kernel sources (Ubuntu patched, 2.6.15). And, perhaps more tellingly it appears at the top of the files:

        drivers/pci/pci-sysfs.c and

    both of which contain many functions which are called from functions in this file:

        NVIDIA-Linux-x86-1.0-8776-pkg1/usr/src/nv/os-inter face.c

    What's that? It's wrapper for the closed source NVIDIA kernel module. What license is that under? The NVIDIA Software License []. It's basically a proprietary EULA with a redistribution (without modification) exception for distros. It sure aint the GPL, or "as free" as the GPL (which is techically what the GPL requires for derived works).

    So Greg.. why don't you sue them? You've made your position clear, fight them. If you havn't got the money, contact the FSF, assign your copyright to them, get them to fight. Given the choice between opening their source code or not being able to distribute their software at all, NVIDIA will choose to open their source code. How can I be so sure? Cause people buy their chipsets to integrate into things like set top boxes and other devices that run Linux. They need that embedded market, that's why they released the drivers in the first place. The problem is that no-one is making them choose.

  • by rm69990 ( 885744 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @02:18AM (#17125248)
    Novell didn't really sell Unix to SCO. SCO became a Unix licensing agent for Novell, but technically SCO does own the title to the Unix contracts. SCO collects money on these contracts, remits 100% to Novell, and then Novell pays SCO a pittance for its duties (5%). In order to protect its interests, Novell retained the right, "at its sole discretion and direction, to require SCO to amend, supplement, modify or waive any rights under, or assign any rights to, any SVRX licensee". If SCO failed to abide by this direction, Novell retained the right "to take any such action on behalf of SCO". Novell exercized this right in June 2003, August 2003 and Feb 2004, and is now asking the court for Summary Judgment to force SCO to recognize these 2+ year old waivers. Read the motion, it goes into great detail. Hope that helps enough that you don't have to though, that's the general gist of it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @03:02AM (#17125440)
    The only reason programming gets any special consideration is because it makes pretty lights flash and calculations happen inside of black boxes.
  • by Arker ( 91948 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @03:16AM (#17125510) Homepage

    And as long as they aren't actually distributing code, they can get away with it.

    The only reason they're getting away with it is because the relevant kernel developers are not suing them.

    You misinterpreted the word they in that sentence, and I confess I should have written that more clearly and I inadvertently encouraged your confusion. The they above is Nvidia and co, not Ubuntu.

    Look, here's how I see it, and I suspect how the kernel devs may well see it. Nvidia has found a loophole to exploit. Nvidia doesn't distribute the kernel. They do distribute a shim, which is clearly a derived work of the kernel, but they obey their obligations on the shim. The binary blob, in and of itself, is NOT clearly a derived work of the kernel, it's Nvidia's own property.

    Now this doesn't solve the problem, but it shifts the act of infringement. Nvidia is not directly infringing. Anyone that ships the three parts, the kernel, the shim, and the blob, together in a useful form, IS infringing - but Nvidia has enough wiggle room to argue in court.

    A distro shipping their shim+blob driver, on the other hand, is technically infringing. But they aren't doing it with malice - they're just trying to do the right thing for their customers, who really don't want to deal with all this. It's Nvidias fault, not theirs. Hence it makes sense to deal with the distros gently - even though they are the ones that are technically in violation, they aren't the ones from whom the intent to violate is coming. And free software has always been fairly gentle with compliance issues, seeking compliance rather than to punish. How much more gentle then, when dealing with a distro maker, a member of the community, that genuinely believes (though in error) that they are doing the right thing?

    Is that more clear?

  • by Brandybuck ( 704397 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @03:20AM (#17125538) Homepage Journal
    Here's the facts:

    1) SCO is suing IBM because SCO believes SCO copyrighted code is in the Linux kernel.

    2) Microsoft and Novell signed an indemnity agreement regarding patents.

    3) There is no relation between the two. SCO isn't suing IBM over Microsoft patents, and Microsoft isn't indemnifying Novell's customers regarding SCO's copyrights. These are two seperate issues, and trying to conflate them is evidence only that your tinfoil hat is on too tight.
  • by chromatic ( 9471 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @03:30AM (#17125586) Homepage
    They do distribute a shim, which is clearly a derived work of the kernel...

    It's clear that a binary compiled against Linux kernel headers is a derivative work of those headers, but it's not clear that the source code itself is a derivative work. Otherwise, I completely agree. Great post.

  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <> on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @03:40AM (#17125628) Homepage Journal
    The shim is not under the GPL, it's under this license []. Which permits nothing but redistribution in distros, with optional modification to the wrapper (or shim) but not the binary.
  • by NickFortune ( 613926 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @05:54AM (#17126372) Homepage Journal
    Can somebody who has been following this a bit closer explain this? It's getting quite hard to tell who is friend or foe any more

    SCO are trying to assert legal ownership of key IP in the Linux system, and in Linux as a whole. They're sued IBM as a way of establishing this right, and for their pains they are currently being slowly flayed by IBM in the courts.

    Novell bought SUSE, one of the big commercial distros. If SCO succeed in their suit, Novell has to buy a licence from SCO or stop distributing Linux. Additionally, Novell reckon that if there is any proprietary IP in Linux, they've got a better claim to it than SCO, and they can prove it. So in the case of SCO, Novell are on our side.

    At the same time, Novell have entered into a deal with Microsoft. Most of it seems to be smoke and mirrors, but what it appears to boil down to is that in return for Novell paying a royalty to MS, MS will help their competitive position with respect to the other distros by threatening to sue rival distributors, developers... almost anybody really. Even SUSE users aren't safe, since MS can cancel the agreement with anyone, any time and for any reason. So it's pretty much a promise not to sue unless they really feel like it. Reassuring, huh? Novell also agreed not to use their patent arsenal to defend Linux against MS, and in return, they get a big pot of cash.

    In this case, it's rather harder to approve of Novell's actions. The deal may not have any legal implications for linux users anywhere, but the patent agreement is going back on a promise they made earlier to the Linux community. On top of that, it's just not a friendly act towards the rest of the community. Other objections have been raised, such attempting to circumvent the PLL, but I can't see how that works, and neither can Mogen Eblen, so I think the whole thing's a combination marketing-and-barratry-deal.

    There are some reservations still as to what else may have been agreed upon. A lot of people are concerned that Novell may try and inject code that clearly violate MS patents into one or more open source packages. Mono and the new OpenOffice fork are particularly worrying in that regard.

    So to sum up:

    Bad Guys:Microsoft, SCO.
    Self-Serving Opportunists:Novell
    Good Guys:Linux devs, distributors other than Novell and SCO, users
    Caught In The Crossfire:SUSE devs

    Hope that helps. Have a nice day.

  • by rsidd ( 6328 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @06:16AM (#17126456)

    The binary blob, as you call it, specifically, nv-kernel.o or "the resource manager" as the wrapper calls it, is a derivative work of the wrapper, and is therefore also required to be under the GPL, and so on. This is classic "how do I make proprietary modifications to a GPL program?" nonsense. Anyone who distributes this stuff is guilty of contributory copyright infringement.

    Correct -- and therefore NVidia does not distribute nv-kernel.o. They cause it to be compiled on the user's machine. Few users will distribute that file further, but if they do, they would be violating the GPL.

    NVidia distributes source code (it need not be under the GPL) to the shim, and a binary module that only depends on the shim. The binary module is useless by itself and, in particular, independent of the kernel (in principle they could write a different shim for another OS, like FreeBSD, and the same binary module -- perhaps that's what they actually do, I don't know). They're free to distribute that. The licence of the source of the shim doesn't matter to them.

    If Ubuntu (or someone else) does the same thing, only through a nicer package manager, they should be in the clear too.

  • by flnca ( 1022891 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @06:35AM (#17126570) Journal
    WTF are you talking about? I just looked at the Linux kernel license, and it's GPL. The GPL covers the kernel source itself, not third-party kernel modules. This means, that if you were to write a driver for Linux that is not included in the kernel source, your driver would not be part of the kernel, but would be your own work that you could put under the helm of an arbitrary license. This is exactly what NVIDIA is doing.

    NVIDIA just wants to protect its right to conceal its chip architecture from its competitors. After all, NVIDIA DOES provide drivers for Linux, Solaris and FreeBSD. And if they were to pull them, users could still migrate to different hardware.

    (And besides, which 3D accelerated graphics adapter would you suggest that has a GPL-ed driver?)

    A broader base of drivers that can (and will) be shipped with GNU/Linux distributions only helps to enlarge the user base.

    Nobody wants to use Windows. Me neither. But I definitely wouldn't run Linux if I couldn't make use of my hardware. So, NVIDIA's driver is the ONLY reason I'm using Linux. I have an NVIDIA card. I have no interest in using Linux with the non-3D open-source NVIDIA driver that comes with (that'd be like using standard VGA in the year 2006). And I'm sure many people feel this way about the issue.

  • by halivar ( 535827 ) <bfelger AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @09:47AM (#17128070)
    Read the Halloween Memos. They do, in fact, expend effort to crush what they see as their only real competition: []
  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @12:55PM (#17131682) Journal
    Incorrect. All DRI drivers are 3D accelerated. My Intel graphics hardware works very nicely in FreeBSD with the drivers Eric Anholt and Keith Packard wrote. Both of them now work for Intel, and continue to write graphics drivers under the same license as before, only now they don't spend so much time supporting ATi hardware.
  • by WilliamSChips ( 793741 ) <full,infinity&gmail,com> on Wednesday December 06, 2006 @09:19PM (#17140120) Journal
    Say what you will about RMS but he has been right just about every time he predicts something. Best example: BitKeeper.

He: Let's end it all, bequeathin' our brains to science. She: What?!? Science got enough trouble with their OWN brains. -- Walt Kelly