The world’s second largest Linux distributor Novell may have its rights to sell new versions of Linux stripped by the Free Software Foundation (FSF) because of Novell’s distribution deal with Microsoft, according to a Reuters report. FSF is the primary sponsor of the open source GNU project and holds intellectual property rights to parts of Linux.
In November last year, Microsoft struck a deal with Novell to offer sales support of Suse Linux and to work together with Novell to develop technologies to make it easier for users to run both Suse Linux and Microsoft’s Windows on their computers.
A key point of the deal is that Microsoft agreed not to pursue any patent rights over software incorporated into Suse Linux, a move that the wider open source community see as an implied threat to Linux users of other distributions. Red Hat the number one Linux vendor has refused to strike a similar deal with Microsoft.
Under the deal with Novell, Microsoft will pay Novell about US$348 million over five years. Around US$240 million of this is for SUSE Linux Enterprise Server “certificates” that Microsoft can resell, distribute or use.
The two companies signed a deal on patents under which Novell will get US$108 million from Microsoft for use of Novell’s patents. Novell will also pay US$40 million protection money over five years to Microsoft which has agreed not to raise patent claims against Novell’s end-user Linux customers.
The terms of the deal, particularly the last part, has raised the hackles of the open source community because many believe that it lends credence to the claim the Linux could infringe some Microsoft patents. Another concern is that providing access to Novell’s Linux customers could give Microsoft a foot in the door to persuade them to shift camp to Windows.
The news that FSF may stop Novell from distributing Linux, however, may appear to some be at odds with one of the key principles of the organization’s manifesto – the freedom to distribute software.
FSF states: “The freedom to redistribute copies must include binary or executable forms of the program, as well as source code, for both modified and unmodified versions.”
Blocking access to the latest versions of the GNU/Linux code as a punishment because a vendor has entered into a contractual relationship with a company seen as the arch-enemy of open source software could be a defining moment in the history of the free software movement.
February 4, 2007
Novell may be stripped of Linux distribution rights
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