RealTime IT News

Is Novell-Microsoft Patent Deal Headed For Rewrite?

Nearly three weeks after Novell's deal with Microsoft over patents, Novell developers are saying that one key part of the agreement is not enough.

During an online discussion the company held yesterday, developers said they are leery of phrasing about legal protections. They are now working with Microsoft on some improvements.

The deal is filled with legalese about how Novell and Microsoft products can interoperate. It includes an "individual non-commercial" covenant that is supposed to provide developers a degree of protection from potential litigation by Microsoft over intellectual property infringement.

"Personally I think it falls very short of the mark," Nat Friedman, Novell's chief technology and strategy officer for open source, said during the online chat. "I don't think it covers enough people or enough activities." Friedman said discussions are underway with Microsoft to make at least one critical change related to the promise not to sue individual developers.

For example, Novell's OpenSUSE community distribution effort was underway before the Microsoft patent agreement was announced. Developers questioned whether this needed to be addressed in the wording of the Microsoft arrangement.

Despite developers' concerns about what they called loopholes in the current spate of agreements, Friedman called the "individual non-commercial" covenant a good step. "But the execution stinks so far, and we've asked them to update that covenant and they are working on it," Friedman said. "They're going to send us a draft this week."

Microsoft was not immediately available to comment on the contents of the online discussion.

One of the areas not clearly defined in the current draft is how the split between non-commercial versus commercial developers impacts those who were paid to work on open source projects as part of Google's Summer of Code.

"It's not clearly defined," Freidman admitted. "As we mentioned before, we are not happy with the way that covenant was written. Microsoft has acknowledged that the covenant is not good enough either. The idea is to cover all open source developers. So we hope we can get the wording a lot closer in the next draft."

Who Gets Paid?

As a result of the Microsoft deal, Novell will receive millions of dollars from Microsoft, some of which may well be re-invested in Novell's open source efforts. OpenSUSE developers were keen to know if that money would go to them and whether it means more paid engineers will join the OpenSUSE project.

OpenSUSE developer Andreas Jaeger said he feared it won't mean higher salaries for existing developers. But Friedman argued that there will be benefits to the open source community as a whole from the Microsoft deal. He said that includes adding Open XML  support to OpenOffice, building a virtualization enhancement to run Novell's flagship SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) on Microsoft's next Virtual Server release, and Vista on Xen.

"We'll also be working together on WS-Management," a Web services specification written by Microsoft, Intel, Sun and others, he added. (WS-Management lays out a common way for disparate systems to exchange and access management information across the infrastructure.) "All this code will be released open source so everyone gets that, and can benefit from it."

Though Novell and Microsoft will collaborate on interoperability, Microsoft's patented intellectual property will not be added into Novell's open source contributions. "Our policy on that is unchanged and Microsoft didn't give us the right to do that anyway!" Friedman said.

Friedman also addressed concerns about whether the deal with Microsoft would violate the GPL version 3 open source license, currently under discussion and in draft form. "It's really hard to discuss GPLv3 considering it doesn't exist yet," he added. "And despite these ominous and threatening statements from [the open source community] we don't know what form it will take."