Novell SuSE Linux threat from FSF ban (and code != comments)

It's IT Blogwatch, in which the Free Software Foundation ponders "banning" Novell's SuSE Linux. Not to mention what to do when the code and the comments disagree...

Jim Finklen reports from Boston:

The Free Software Foundation is reviewing Novell Inc.'s right to sell new versions of Linux operating system software after the open-source community criticized Novell for teaming up with Microsoft Corp. ... The foundation controls intellectual property rights to key parts of the open-source Linux operating system ... If the foundation decides to take action, the ban would apply to new versions of Linux covered under a licensing agreement due to take effect in March.


Novell angered members of the open-source community that develops Linux and other free software programs in November when it entered a wide-ranging business deal with Microsoft. Critics called on the board to punish Novell by banning it from distributing new versions of Linux software ... the board has not made a decision on the matter but that he expects it to announce a ruling within two weeks ... [said] Eben Moglen, the Foundation's general counsel.

Federico Fissore reminds us of the background:

As you should know, a couple of months ago Novell and Microsoft signed an agreement with the public aim of making GNU/Linux and Windows work together more easily. From the free software community, many smelled another “Embrace, extend and extinguish” implementation, the typical Microsoft tactic when it comes to be too difficult to defeat an enemy.

Ryan Probasco sighs:

The FSF has finally offered definitive proof that they are no more than a bunch of pathetic vindictive crybabies. It’s this exact type of behavior that drove me away from their supposedly ‘high’ moral ideals in the first place. I think Richard Stallman’s quote sums up the attitude of the entire FSF: We’re not here to give users what they want. We’re here to give them freedom.

Thanks, Richard. That reminds me of another famous saying: Don’t cut off your nose in spite of your face.

As far as I’m concerned, the FSF can take its depraved definition of “freedom” and shove it. Their interests don’t serve the community (despite what the community thinks), the advancement of technology or even a better world. Their definition of freedom is designed solely for the benefit of a relatively microscopic proportion people that want to make software their hobby.

Chris Scoggins agrees: he's seen the future:

I've always had the feeling that Linux was going to implode upon itself but was never quite sure what the mechanism was going to be. I think I've figured it out ... Making decisions based on the purity of the players sounds like a sure fire way to limit growth of a product. Having self-righteous technocrats in charge is equivalent to a death sentence for any project.

But wait! Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols also talked to Eben Moglen:

[Eben] explained: "This is a story being hyped by the Reuters guy who wrote it ... What he actually asked me ... was 'Is it true that some members of the community want GPLv3 to keep Novell from distributing future versions of GPL'd software?' I said, 'Yes, the Free Software Foundation is opposed to the deal, and is thinking about what to do; there will be a new draft soon [of the GPLv3]" (GNU General Public License Version 3) ... The actual quote he prints is entirely accurate, but his lede destroys the context and is making unnecessary waves."


But, as FSF founder Richard M. Stallman himself has said, the Novell/Microsoft patent agreement is not in violation of the GPL version 2 ... "It turns out that perhaps it's a good thing that Microsoft did this now, because we discovered that the text we had written for GPL version 3 would not have blocked this, but it's not too late and we're going to make sure that when GPL version 3 really comes out it will block such deals." What Moglen was talking about on Feb. 2 was the next draft of the GPLv3.


It's that draft, and how its language would affect companies with such patent deals, that Moglen and the rest of the board will be discussing in several weeks. There is little doubt that the GPLv3 will include language forbidding such patent arrangements. It is the feeling of many free software advocates that while the Microsoft/Novell deal was true to the letter of the GPL, it wasn't true to its spirit.

Shane Coyle has more detail:

What is actually happening is, in the coming weeks, Moglen and the FSF will be working on the language to address Microvell’s license exploit, and then Novell will have something concrete to ponder - comply with GPLv3 or fork nearly every major package in their distribution, starting with Samba.

Of course, as [Samba leading-light] Jeremy Allison astutely pointed out in our interview with him after leaving Novell, it is likely that Microsoft will find the deal untenable after GPLv3 is introduced, since the new version is likely to include verbiage that extends Novell’s patent covenant to all downstream users, without restriction ... as the new GPL version nears completion, we should watch Novell to see if they are indeed willing and able to comply with the new license, or if their deal with Microsoft will take precedence over the community from which they derive their product.

Steven Hodson rolls his eyes:

Eben might have been trying to clarify the matter but he may have just ended up muddying it further. While it is agreed that there is nothing in the version 2 of the GPL that hinders the Novell/Microsoft agreements it would appear from the continued reworking of GPLv3 language that some attempt will be made to basically make such agreements in the future an act copyright/licensing infringement. If the GPLv3 does get ratified then Novell would be barred from selling any version of Linux that has the GPLv3 licensing attached to it. So much for free software and a free marketplace.

morleron is not a lawyer:

IANAL, but I suspect that the FSF could make life very difficult for Novell if they change the license for all of the many utilities and applications that they control from GPLv2 to GPLv3. Novell would have a lot of work to do if they were suddenly put in a position in which they could no longer distribute the gcc package, GIMP, GNOME, etc. with SuSE or any other Novell-branded Linux distro. There are a lot of small pieces of the overall that use FSF-developed code and are essential to running a Linux system. We could find out how much truth there is to [Stallman's] statement that the overall system should be called GNU/Linux if the FSF goes ahead with this move


The Novell/ MS deal is nothing, but a way to provide Novell with a marketing tool, the ability to say "use our Linux distro and be safe from MS patent claims", at the expense of the overall community ... Make no mistake about it Novell is evil.

But Kjella just thinks Novell is being clever:

See now, here's the critical issue in the suckerpunch. If Novell had recieved a proper patent license, everything would be very clear cut. They haven't, they've recieved a "promise not to get sued" which smells, acts, talks and walks like a patent license, but in legal terms isn't ... Here's the end game if it goes the way Microsoft and Novell wants:

  1. Novell contributes code covered by patents
  2. Customers get code
  3. Non-customers get code
  4. Microsoft sues non-customers
  5. Non-customers claim they have patent license through GPL
  6. Courts: "Nope, it hasn't been sublicensed to you"
  7. FSF sues Novell over not distributing all their rights
  8. Courts: "Nope, they're distributing all their formal licenses"
  9. FSF sues Novell over being bound by patent lawsuits
  10. Courts: "Nope. that only applies to the sued parties"
  11. Non-customers buy Novell products
  12. Microsoft and Novell: Profit

Buffer overflow:

Around the Net Around Computerworld Previously in IT Blogwatch

And finally... When code and comments disagree

Richi Jennings is an independent technology and marketing consultant, specializing in email, blogging, Linux, and computer security. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. Contact Richi at

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