Novell defends itself over Microsoft deal

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Novell defends itself over Microsoft deal

Free Software Federation threatens to cut company off.

Novell has defended itself robustly against charges that its recent commercial collaboration with Microsoft could damage the wider open source movement.

Eric Anderson, vice president of data centre engineering at Novell, said that the deal was good news for the open source community as it would increase the number of people using Linux.

"We are doing the thing that the Linux community thinks is important: getting as many people as possible to use Linux," he said.

"That is what this deal does, but everyone seems to have forgotten that. It is not a patent deal and we see it as necessary to get people in."

Anderson citied the case of HSBCin the UK, which came over to Novell after the deal because of its arrangement with Microsoft.

The deal prompted the purchase of more than 40,000 new SuSE Linux licences, and a huge surge in the number of people using open source software.

"The Microsoft-Novell agreement is a great catalyst to helping us reduce the complexity of our Linux environment as we standardise our Linux infrastructure with SuSE and continue to extend the use of Microsoft Active Directory," said Matthew O'Neill, group head of distributed systems at HSBC Global IT Operations.

"Our decision to simplify our mixed-source environment with Microsoft and Novell will allow us to reduce cost and complexity. That is why we have selected Novell as our preferred Linux partner to support our Linux infrastructure going forward."

But there are already signs that some in the open source community are looking to get tough on Novell for doing a deal with a company which they see as the main opponent of open source.

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is already talking about introducing language into its GNU General Public Licence that will block open source companies from using new code if it works with third parties which use patents on software.

This move has been seen by many as a clear attempt to disrupt the Novell-Microsoft deal.

"The GPL was designed to ensure that all users of a program receive the four essential freedoms which define free software," said Richard Stallman, president of the FSF and principal author of the GNU GPL.

"These freedoms allow you to run the program as you see fit; study and adapt it for your own purposes; redistribute copies to help your neighbour; and release your improvements to the public.

"The recent patent agreement between Microsoft and Novell aims to undermine these freedoms. In this draft we have worked hard to prevent such deals from making a mockery of free software."

But the move has drawn sharp criticism from some in the wider open source community, who see it as having nothing to do with the software and everything to do with the FSF trying to impose its values.

"Richard Stallman's Free Software Foundation is positioned to create a morally absolute position on 'right and wrong' when it comes to software code," said Braden Cox from the Association for Competitive Technology.

"They believe that the community is king, or at least the right kind of 'community'. But this new iteration of the GPL creates a gated community to the detriment of the community as a whole."
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