Microsoft and Xandros in new patent spat (and BttF)

Wow, already it's Wednesday's IT Blogwatch: in which Microsoft lies down with Xandros. Not to mention Back to the future of Microsoft's big visions...

Elizabeth Montalbano is in Orlando, too:

Microsoft Corp. has signed another Linux distributor to a patent licensing and collaboration deal similar to the one it struck with Novell Inc. last year. Xandros Inc., which offers desktop and server versions of Linux, has agreed to license Microsoft intellectual property (IP), said Bob Muglia, senior vice president of the server and tools business at Microsoft. He dropped the news in the middle of a keynote speech today at the company's TechEd 2007 conference in Orlando.

Muglia shed little light on specific details of the agreement, saying only that it follows the same model as the Linux and Windows interoperability and licensing deal Microsoft struck with Novell last year ... A statement from the companies offered more details, confirming that the deal includes "covenants" to protect customers using Xandros software from any potential patent-infringement claims from Microsoft.

Microsoft said recently that it would aggressively seek royalties for patents it says it holds in open-source technologies such as Linux. The company acknowledged that instead of going to court, it would rather sign backroom patent and cross-licensing deals with open-source distributors.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols adds:

Here we go again. Once more we have Microsoft pledging that it won't sue Novell -- excuse me, Xandros -- Linux customers for violating its IP, specifically patents. What patents? Determined how? Violated in what way? We don't know, and Microsoft still isn't telling.

As I've asked before: How dumb does Microsoft think we are? I also wonder how dumb does Microsoft think the Free Software Foundation, with its final draft of the GPLv3, is? The GPLv3 authors have made it pretty darn clear that neither Microsoft, nor anyone else, can get away with this kind of patent agreement anymore.

...

Microsoft is now claiming that there is no inherent contradiction between its claims that free and open-source software infringes on 235 of its patents, and the thinly veiled legal threats that go along with that, and its efforts to reach out and build bridges with the open-source community. If you buy that, I have a great bridge -- a classic -- in Brooklyn that you might be interested in.

...

Except for the poison pill of Microsoft's bogus IP assurances, it's a good deal [for Xandros].

Ryan Paul has this:

Software interoperability efforts encompassed by the agreement will primarily relate to systems management technologies, server protocol interoperability, and office document compatibility. Xandros plans to implement WS-Management support in its BridgeWays cross-platform management system and will work with Microsoft to improve tools and frameworks that facilitate translation between Microsoft's Open Office XML format and the OpenDocument format. Other efforts will focus on improving interoperability and ease of management in mixed-platform networks.

...

The patent covenant will undoubtedly make this agreement controversial. Some have expressed concerns that Linux vendors are adding credibility to Microsoft's unsubstantiated claims regarding Linux patent infringement by entering into patent covenant agreements with Microsoft. An upcoming revision of the General Public License (GPL)—a widely used open-source software license—aims to prevent Linux distributors from making deals that involve patent covenants because such deals are perceived by some as antithetical to the principles of unrestricted redistribution inherent to the open-source software movement ... Xandros will definitely face hostility from a vocal faction of Linux users.

A "vocal faction of Linux users" slashdotted:

Here we go again ... Show me the patents or shut up.

...

This has just become a running joke. I think it is much more than just "the Linux community" that thinks Microsoft is full of sh*t with their lies and marketing ploys.

...

Microsoft look like they are playing a very big chess game to win control over Linux and it needs to be stopped fast.

...

Microsoft found another foundering commercial Linux distribution willing to sign up to the patent covenant and give it publicity. The technical aspects are irrelevant, as they indeed are in the Novell deal. Xandros is a little fish without significant technology to offer. Even in the case of Novell, nobody needed Microsoft's help with virtualization ... [Xandros isn't] a big player, this isn't going to make them into one. We should turn away from them as was the casewith Novell, but it seems a bit silly since most of us didn't even know they existed.

...

Microsoft is making sweetheart deals with failing Linux distributions so that it can support its political stance in favor of increases in software patenting. They are using Xandros to drive Microsoft's campaign to create a situation in which any competing product must somehow be infringing of Microsoft, or at least is believed to be infringing of Microsoft. Xandros didn't have the money to pay Microsoft for this. They were dying anyway.

...

It violates common sense for Microsoft to pay Xandros to take the protection, if you judge the agreement at face value. Which is an important point to bring up in talking about this.

...

Did you notice that Novell has gone from profitable back to losing Millions in the wake of the Microsoft deal? ... They went from 630% installed base growth to 114%.

...

So in Brooklyn, for example, Fingers and Lucky come into your restaurant one day and demand a weekly payment in return for which nothing bad happens to your business or your cute little kids ... is there a RICO [Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act] case here?

Payton Byrd isn't usually known as a free software supporter:

Xandros is Debian based, and the Debian folks are some of the most ardent supporters of the GPL to be found.  The blowback that Novell received may be dwarfed by what happens to Xandros in the Debian community. [And] I don't see any mention of coupons in this deal.  It appears that this deal is not as convoluted as the Novell deal and may make it easier for Microsoft to stay clear of the traps in GPL V3 that Stallman has been trying to set.

Speaking of GPL V3, the final draft is out and reportedly it allows the Novell deal to continue, but with a poison pill.  If Microsoft insists on distributing its coupons for Suse Enterprise Linux once GPL V3 is attached to said SEL, then some experts believe that the wording of this final draft to mean that Microsoft would then be providing patent indemnification to all GNU\Linux distributors.  I'm not a lawyer, so I'm going to defer to the experts on this one and take them at their word.  If this turns out to be true then Microsoft is probably going to eat a lot of coupons to protect their IP from Redhat, Oracle and IBM.

Stephen Walli goes all Shakespearian on us:

Novell ... have consistently said they don't believe Linux infringes any Microsoft patents, and that the IP related parts of the deal weren't about any current Linux patent infringement.  If you buy the public message, then the deal has likely been net positive for Novell, if only for the cash injection.  For Xandros this deal is their perceived chance to get some commercial love which they probably would like about now.

Corel is an investor in Xandros along with Linux Global Partners.  Corel has had a bizarre history with Microsoft, alternately suing and collaborating with them.  It should come as no surprise that a Corel spin-off like Xandros considers a deal with Redmond good business.

...

There is no more patent infringement validation here, despite Microsoft posturing, than the Novell-Microsoft deal.  A hundred companies using free and open source software in their offerings to customers could sign patent cross licensing or covenant deals with Microsoft, and it means nothing with respect to the veracity of Microsoft's infringement claims.  Patents are tickets to negotiations.  They are (sometimes) interesting opportunities for discussions.  But they are utterly unproved until they enter a courtroom.

Pamela Jones groks:

It's not exactly what Novell agreed to ... from the sound of it ... Patent covenants isn't the same wording as a patent peace agreement. So this must be an attempt to work around the GPLv3, I think ... Xandros has agreed to help Microsoft kill off ODF ... Xandrox management has no clue. Not a clue in the world.

...

Do you get now what the GPLv3 has features to protect the community from treachery from inside and from outside the community? Anyway, as Eben Moglen said, GPLv3 is still in draft form and he can change the rules. As more details about this deal surface, it will become clearer exactly what the terms are, and if needed, the draft will no doubt be revised.

...

I'm starting to wonder if this is just face-saving PR, after getting zonked by the GPL. Why would Microsoft care about a company this insignificant otherwise?

Buffer overflow:

Around the Net Around Computerworld Previously in IT Blogwatch

And finally... Bob [Muglia], meet Bob.

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 blogwatch@richi.co.uk.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon