CyberTech Rambler

November 3, 2006

Microsoft learning to live with “Cancer”

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 12:39 pm

The cancer, is of course, GPL-ed software. If you want to know the specific type of GPL-ed software, its Linux. The term “learning to live with” of course, is a direct reference to Microsoft/Novell SUSE Linux deal.

PJ so far have the best coverage from the open source community viewpoint. For this post, I cannot say she is unbiased as in the case of HP coverage and SCO vs IBM coverage, but she already acknowledged time-and-time-again that she is pro Free Software.

There are aspects of the deal that I like and don’t like or simply does not make sense. First, let me tell you what I think about what is really the meat of the deal for both side beyond the hot air: For Novell, it looks like it is mainly aimed at calming nerves and promote  the Mono project, something SuSE started but has always been  possible patent infringement claims by Microsoft. For Microsoft, it knows that it has to live with the “Cancer” as there is no known cure. This is especially true for virtualization. Luckily, Microsoft can choose the precise variant of the “Cancer”. The fact that it chooses SuSE and not RedHat is not surprising as SuSE is closer to the boundary between open and close source than RedHat, making it more palatable.

The commitment extracted by Microsoft where Novell works on Open XML format in OpenOffice.org is said by some quarters to be a betrayal of Novell in the open source community. I actually do not see it this way. First and foremost, someone has to work on Open XML in OpenOffice.org. If Novell wants the job, it can have it. The only caveat: All stuff release by Novell must be LGPL-compatible. If this is met, I have no objections. If this means Novell is committed to make my OpenXML-based file looks better in OpenOffice.org, it is better for me. As OpenOffice.org default format is ODF, this means that it is extremely likely that conversion to-and-from ODF and OpenXML is going to be better. This improve the competitiveness of OpenOffice.org. This will raise the bar for MS Office half-baked support for ODF to follow. Then there is this thing call hedging one’s bet. OpenOffice.org is betting on ODF, but as a piece of application it is bigger than ODF and should survive even if, to my charing, ODF does not.  I would prefer not to see OpenOffice.org scramble to catchup (as it did when it was first launched as StarOffice) if this really bad situation occurs and prefer OpenOffice.org to hedge its bet by providing good OpenXML support all along.

The Joint Letter to open source community by Novell and Microsoft is a moron. It is just about simply about flogging something which mainly benefit the two companies as something it is not: a big boon to the community. If it is, there will be no need for such statements and letters.

Novell extracted a promise-not-to-sue individual, non-commercial developer from Microsoft. This looks like a reference to Novell’s open source effort. However, unless it is a homegrown open source effort, that has no impact as Novell is still bound by open source license for the software it distribute. In particular, that does not release Novell from its GPL obligation. Thus, impact on already free software is one big fat zero. Ebel Morgan said it best. He is not privy to the agreement, but Novell still have to maintain its obligation, under the GPL to preserve Freedom 0 (The right to modify and redistribute software) for any free software it distribute.

However, Microsoft and Novell’s lawyers are not fools. I am sure they find a way to skirt this requirement. I believe this is a bit of FUD on both Microsoft and Novell. What it amount to is Microsoft will be careful, if it chooses to sue the open source community, to carefully avoid Novell’s customers. An interesting thing will be, what happens if I get the program from Novell under its GPL obligation? For example, download the program from Novell’s server. If Microsoft sues me, I go back and sue Novell (directly or get the copyright holders to do it) for bleach of its GPL obligation.

Let’s just see this agreement as it really is, i.e., between two companies for their mutual benefits.  Third party like you and me win some, lose some on these deals. They are attempting to spice up the deal by throwing tidbits to open source community. Just don’t swallow the PR without questioning it.

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