Ubuntu Linux founder: No Microsoft deal pending

A Microsoft licensing deal isn't needed by Ubuntu's user community, he says

Contrary to online rumors, Ubuntu Linux won't be signing a deal with Microsoft Corp. to protect it from being sued for alleged infringement of unspecified patents.

That's the word from Ubuntu Linux founder Mark Shuttleworth, who wrote about the topic in his online blog on Saturday after several such deals between Microsoft and other Linux operating system vendors were announced.

"There's a rumour circulating that Ubuntu is in discussions with Microsoft aimed at an agreement along the lines they have concluded recently with Linspire, Xandros, Novell etc.," Shuttleworth wrote in his blog. "Unfortunately, some speculation in the media (thoroughly and elegantly debunked in the blogosphere but not before the damage was done) posited that 'Ubuntu might be next.' For the record, let me state my position, and I think this is also roughly the position of Canonical [the commercial sponsor of Ubuntu Linux] and the Ubuntu Community Council, though I haven't caucused with the CC on this specifically. We have declined to discuss any agreement with Microsoft under the threat of unspecified patent infringements."

In the past two weeks, Microsoft has reached intellectual property agreements and collaboration deals with Linux vendors Linspire Inc. and Xandros Inc.. Microsoft said yesterday that it still hopes to forge a similar pact with Linux market leader Red Hat Inc., although Red Hat has consistently said that it's not interested in such a deal.

Last November, Microsoft reached a landmark deal with Linux vendor Novell Inc. to support Novell's SUSE Linux on machines that run Windows, as well as to provide sales support and co-develop technologies to make it easier for users to run both SUSE Linux and Microsoft Windows on their computers. As part of the deal, Microsoft agreed not to assert its patents against customers running SUSE Linux.

The agreements have raised concerns in the open-source community that Microsoft is using the deals to intimidate open-source vendors into signing contracts to avoid potential lawsuits from the company. Microsoft has periodically shaken its corporate fist and threatened to clamp down on what it has called open-source infringements of some of its patents.

Last month, Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, and Horacio Gutierrez, the company's vice president of intellectual property and licensing, said open-source software, including Linux, violates 235 Microsoft patents and that the company wants distributors and users of open-source software to start paying royalties for the alleged violations.

In his blog, Shuttleworth said that such threats are absurd because Microsoft has still not specifically identified any of its alleged patents that might have been infringed upon.

"Allegations of 'infringement of unspecified patents' carry no weight whatsoever," Shuttleworth wrote. "We don't think they have any legal merit, and they are no incentive for us to work with Microsoft on any of the wonderful things we could do together. A promise by Microsoft not to sue for infringement of unspecified patents has no value at all and is not worth paying for. It does not protect users from the real risk of a patent suit from a pure-IP-holder (Microsoft itself is regularly found to violate such patents and regularly settles such suits). People who pay protection money for that promise are likely living in a false sense of security."

Shuttleworth wrote that he has "no objections to working with Microsoft in ways that further the cause of free software, and I don't rule out any collaboration with them, in the event that they adopt a position of constructive engagement with the free software community. It's not useful to characterize any company as 'intrinsically evil for all time.' But I don't believe that the intent of the current round of agreements is supportive of free software, and in fact I don't think it's particularly in Microsoft's interests to pursue this agenda either. In time, perhaps, they will come to see things that way, too."

A Microsoft spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment today.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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