OSBC, San Francisco. Today, there was a panel to discuss the Microsoft Novell deal and the Fortune magazine article at the OSBC meeting. The general discussion went like this:
Sam Ramji (Microsoft rep) - the deal with Novell was good for open source because it helps interoperability, grows the software ecosystem and helps Microsoft engage with conversations w/ the open source community. We did not do this to sue the Linux community, Red Hat or their customers. We don't plan to sue anyone.
Justin Steinman (Novell rep) - this deal is good. Our Linux business grew 650% qtr/qtr in the first quarter that we signed this deal with Microsoft and we grew the Linux community by selling licenses to Wal Mart & Nationwide.
Allison Randal (OReilly rep) -The deal is neither good nor bad, it seems to be just a standard collaboration agreement.
Jonathan Corbet (JWN rep) - If I can no longer ship my code due to a threat from MSFT then this is very bad for the community and I think this is a bad deal for the community
After these brief opening statements, the session was opened for questions. MSFT/ Novell defended their positions against a somewhat incredulous audience that packed the room.
I think the key statement was that Sam said Microsoft was not intending to sue Red Hat or their customers and has no intent to sue anyone. The real question is why did they tally up the 235 patents? Was this just a coffee break exercise - "Hey, lets spend an hour and find out how many patents those open source geeks are violating" ? No, this took considerable effort on the part of a number of very good, highly paid Microsoft lawyers under the direction of their boss who did this for a reason. We all assume it is a reaction to the open source community posing a credible theat the Microsoft OS / Office monoploy but no one really knows. With Dell distributing Ubuntu, Java being open sourced and distributed by Ubuntu and the state of MA adopting the ODF format there is a clear and present danger to Microsoft's current software strategy.
Sam was consistent over the course of the 2 day meetings with their statement that they did not intend to sue anyone as a result of this investigation into infringing patents, but that remains to be seen. We will all learn more at the end of May when Microsoft files their next 10K in which their legal rep stated they will include the details of the Novell agreement.
Sam did a great job in the face of harsh questioning, but at the end he broke the room up with this comment (seriously) " we disclosed the number of patents as a result of the call for increased transparancy by the open source community and this was as far as we could go. " His legal rep said that they did not disclose which patents the community infringed on because "we didn't have the staff to do this and were not prepared to accept all the calls that would result (sic)" (my paraphrasing of his smarmy response). As if Microsoft doesn't have sufficient legal staff? Well, we can give the legal guy some slack for this response because he is, well, a legal guy and they always do that.
Finally, on closing the moderater took a poll of the room asking what they thought of the deal now that they had heard as many details as they could get.
20% thought it was a good deal for open source
20% thought it was a bad deal for open source
60% were not sure.
Clearly, the jury is still out and we have to wait until the end of May for the next chapter to unfold.