Free as in paying royalties to Micrsoft
By patrickf on Nov 04, 2006
Simon persuaded me to stay up and watch the webcast of press conference of the Microsoft-Novell deal. It started late and we had to sit through music that would have been more at home in a lapdancing club. It didn't end there.
You can read about the details elsewhere, both from those who are shocked, and those who justify it as doing what is right for Novell's customers.
It was all about bridges. They were building bridges. They were bridging the divide. The was a new "Intellectual Property Bridge" between the world of open source and that of proprietary software. Hmmm. Why all the metaphor? What is this bridge? And why couldn't they be more explicit about it?
Later, when clarifying what this "IP Bridge" means, Steve Ballmer corrected himself three times: it was patent peace, no, it was coverage, er, a settlement. Finally, he settled on resolution. It seems that Microsoft agree not to assert patent claims against Novell customers for their use of Suse Linux, and given that Novell consider this part of a deal with Microsoft, they are clearly tacitly endorsing the view that GNU/Linux does infringe Microsoft owned patents.
Stacked against that, Jeff Jaffe of Novell claimed that open source, and the open source community is very important to Novell and that this deal helped open source in three ways:
1. Microsoft's decision to enter a partnership was a recognition of the importance of GNU/Linux
2. Microsoft agreed not to assert patent infringement claims against individual open source developers
3. Novell and Microsoft would collaborate on certain open source projects
Well, I would think that most people don't care about #1 and #3 (in fact, they're laughable), but what about #2, which was also flagged in the joint letter to the open source community?
More importantly, Microsoft announced today that it will not assert its patents against individual, non-commercial developers. Novell has secured an irrevocable promise from Microsoft to allow individual and non-commercial contributors the freedom to continue open source development, free from any concern of Microsoft patent lawsuits. That's right, Microsoft wants you to keep hacking.
In the mediacast, the Microsoft lawyer clarified this: this applies to individuals not creating code as a part of their job, and that this promise does not run to anyone who employs them. They are welcome to "keep hacking". I actually discussed this very issue with a patent lawyer at Sun a while ago. He said that a corporation would never bring a lawsuit against a private individual in this manner. It is expensive, and the developer's liabilities (a non-commercial private individual developer we're talking about) would be very low. Even if you won your claim, you would lose money. And even if you could prove that the patent infringement was done willfully, a private individual whose code was not used commercially would not present an attractive target for litigation.
As far as I can tell, Microsoft's irrecovable promise is about as profound as Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian's understanding of open source.
ps. the views expressed here are not necessarily those of my employer