Ubuntu-Pakistan The Microsoft Windows and Novell Suse Linux Deal - What's the catch?
Fouad Riaz Bajwa
bajwa at fossfp.org
Fri Nov 3 16:34:00 GMT 2006
The Microsoft Windows and Novell Suse Linux Deal - What's the catch?
(Analysis by Fouad Riaz Bajwa, FOSS Advocate, bajwa|NOSPAM|fossfp|DAWT|org)
In a recent report by CNet News (November 2, 2006) Microsoft and Novell have
joined forces in a partnership mixing the world of Proprietary Windows
Software with Open Source Linux towards working on harmonizing Windows
proprietary software and related products on the Novell Suse Linux platform.
The pact is to promote Microsoft's proprietary Windows work with Novell's
Suse Linux, which is based on open-source code. On the business side, they
will promote each other's products.
Within the pact, the partners have also struck a new deal on patents
designed to give customers peace of mind about using Novell's OSS products.
The companies will create a joint research facility at which they will build
and test new products, and work with customers and the open-source
community. The focus will be on three technical areas: virtualization, web
services for server management, and Microsoft Office-OpenOffice.org
Does this mean that we will see Microsoft promoting Novell Suse Linux on
their marketing collateral and information dissemination networks? Will
Microsoft partners and ISVs promote Linux inline with their Windows
offerings? Does this also mean Microsoft is bending to Open Source and Linux
With this deal, it is now evident that Microsoft's earlier self-funded
reports about Linux performance and TCO issues were definitely self
populated false information. This also concludes that Oracle's Unbreakable
Enterprise Linux may have shook up Microsoft on the issue about its
dominance within various partnership deals with other enterprise software
vendors and developers.
If Microsoft had not been bending to Open Source, it would have never gone
with the Linux partnership deal on a Linux platform. Secondly, this deal
also shows that Open Source with Linux in particular has overcome the six
barriers to open source adoption indicated by Dan Farber in March 2004 on
ZDNet. Dan had indicated that open source carried the following critical
- Informal support
- Velocity of change
- No roadmap
- Functional gaps
- Licensing caveats
- ISV endorsements
These deficiencies seem to have been overcome during the last few years as
we can see leading enterprise vendors including Oracle and Novell making
major investments in open source software. Possibly defying Richard
Stallman's Free Software ideology and taking into account the variable scope
of open source software, this deal is making benefit of the possibilities to
mix proprietary software code with open source software code.
Is this proprietary software mix with Linux code really possible? It may be
possible in light of the interview given by Open Source Initiative founder
Bruce Peren's in Apr 2006 to SearchOpenSource.com where he stated to a
SearchOpenSource.com: What are some ways to mix proprietary software
and the Linux kernel?
Bruce Perens: Try to view this in the context of a cell phone, where
the cellular provider wants to protect the way they handle the network from
open source. In a phone like mine, there are actually two CPUs, so they can
put everything they want to protect in the embedded CPU and put all of the
open source code into the other CPU. Physically, they're both on the same
chip. The General Public License (GPL) would allow that coexistence and
permit the interface between those two chips. If it's a well-defined
interface then it can be considered a perfectly legal demarcation between
proprietary software and open source. Now, if you look at the license text
that comes with the Linux kernel, there's a special preliminary to it that
re-asserts that user-mode applications are OK. They are not affected by the
GPL license unless they actually incorporate a GPL file. The license of the
kernel does not affect the application. If that's true for the kernel in an
application, it's also true for a kernel on top of another kernel. One
strategy that has been used successfully in the past by IBM is to host the
Linux kernel on top of another proprietary kernel, which, in itself,
contains some proprietary device drivers. Invidia's strategy is interesting
since it's the shakiest one. I'm not sure if it is legal. Invidia [Corp.]
has made a single loadable module for their graphics kernel, which makes the
graphics card work. That loadable module is operating system-independent,
meaning that it runs on Windows and Linux. In addition, they have a GPL
portability layer that makes that loadable module work with Linux. So it
would be more difficult, given that it works on multiple operating systems,
to establish in a court that it was actually a derived work of Linux.
Finally, another way to mix proprietary software and the Linux kernel is to
put whatever you need to be proprietary in a user-mode application, rather
than in the kernel. It is possible to expose the I/O boss to a user-mode
application. You don't necessarily get the real-time services you get in the
kernel, but for many people, that doesn't matter. There are, of course, more
elements than what I've listed.
More questions remove this confusion accordingly that:
SearchOpenSource.com: Do you think it would be realistic to worry
about patent issues?
Perens: I'm not the only one worried sick. Every small and
medium-sized proprietary software manufacturer who understands the problem
is concerned because they're on the bottom. There are some other people who
can, essentially, dictate terms. If we get additional software patents and
standards, for example, you get a situation where Microsoft or IBM can
implement a standard without a patent tax. Small-sized companies might have
to pay that tax and their potential for profit would be limited. The
problems in patent quality only exacerbate this. It's a bad deal and it is
to the benefit of the largest companies in the world, not anyone else.
Everyone should be worried in the software business. Even users should be
concerned because this is going to close out their options. Will we have the
so-called 'nuclear option,' where, some day we get up in the morning and
read that a thousand patent suits have been filed against open source? It's
still perfectly possible and it's bad news for small and medium-sized
proprietary software manufacturers too. Those companies are 80% of their
SearchOpenSource.com: You don't think the GPL 3.0 will take care of
Perens: It wouldn't address them for the proprietary companies at
all. Not everyone is using the GPL 3.0, and there's always litigation. You
never know how much the judge is going to buy. The GPL 3.0 will help us with
our friends -- but not our enemies. Our enemies aren't putting software
under GPL 3.0.
Will Microsoft and Novell struggle together to get additional software
patents and standards so that the standards as a result of their partnership
can be implemented able without a patent tax? If this is the case, other
companies will have to pay that patent taxes reducing their profits thus
this mix may worsen the patent attack regime. What will be the real impact
of this deal on the FOSS Ecosystem is yet to be witnessed in due course of
time but one can be sure that they will be seeing new patents imposed
employing open source software development models.
Online references and further reading:
Microsoft makes Linux pact with Novell
Six barriers to open source adoption
When to mix proprietary code with Linux
Free Software Foundation http://www.fsf.org
Open Source Initiative http://www.opensource.org
The above information has been analyzed on a non-commercial basis
for information purposes only. The author takes no responsibility whatsoever
of the views and material presented within the references provided and
readers are encouraged to research the facts on their own where deemed
Business Analysis by
Fouad Riaz Bajwa
Released under Creative Commons License Attribution -Share Alike 2.5
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