Samba team letter to Novell -- please reconsider

In an open letter to Novell, members of the Samba team stated they "disapprove strongly" of its actions regarding a newly forged partnership with Microsoft. Will Novell listen?

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Members of the Samba team made their stance on the partnership between Microsoft and Novell Inc. very clear this week in the form of a letter stating it "strongly disagreed" with Novell's actions.

On Nov. 2, Novell and Microsoft entered into an unprecedented partnership that will see Microsoft Windows and Novell SUSE Linux paired up in the name of collaboration. The move was largely seen as a victory for Linux, as Microsoft was forced to finally recognize the open source operating system as a legitimate force in the enterprise.

However, there are many in the open source community that see the agreement as a violation of the GNU Public License, including the Freedom Software Foundation's general counsel, Eben Moglen. He argued last week that the deal would be in violation of GPLv2.

Today, members of the Samba community are on board with Moglen, and its members said the partnership is a "divisive agreement" that goes against the spirit of free software.

"One of the fundamental differences between the proprietary software world and the free software world is that the proprietary software world divides users by forcing them to agree to coercive licensing agreements that restrict their rights to share with each other. Whereas the free software world encourages users to unite and share the benefits of the software," said a portion of the letter, sent to SearchOpenSource.com by Samba team member Gerald "Jerry" Carter.

The root of the Samba team's disagreement with Novell appears to be that they view the partnership as a divisive one that will treat users and creators of free software differently depending on their commercial versus non-commercial status. The agreement will also deal with users differently, depending on whether or not they obtained their free software directly from Novell or from someone else.

"The goals of the free software community and the GPL allow for no such distinctions," Carter said.

In a strongly worded segment of the letter, the Samba team accused Novell of "attempting to destroy" the unified defense that supporters of GPL-licenses software have formed to fight proprietary software patents. "With this agreement Novell is … exchanging the long-term interests of the entire free software community for a short-term advantage over its competitors."

Scott Lewis, the vice president of industry and customer programs for Novell, said criticism of the deal was focused on the patent part of the Microsoft-Novell agreement solely from the perspective of risk management. It did not include an analysis of what it makes possible.

Lewis also took issue with SearchOpenSource.com's interview with Red Hat general counsel Mark Webbink. In that interview, Webbink said in one year Novell would no longer exist, and Red Hat would be the only commercial Linux distribution left.

"[Webbink] doesn't seem to get the broader needs of the customer." Lewis said. "Customers that have mixed IT environments need more than indemnity, and most customers have mixed IT environments. The real story here is that customers want these products to work better together and for the vendors to support customers the way that customers use the products."

But broadening an indemnification program does not by itself address this dimension of the customers' needs. "Microsoft and Novell needed to address patents in order to be able to collaborate to better serve customers technically. That is a very important part of the equation," Lewis said.

According to Lewis, the Microsoft-Novell deal shows the two companies sharing a few goals: to accelerate the growth of the virtualization market, to accelerate the growth of the management tools market, especially for virtualized environments, and to make it easier for customers to deploy Microsoft and Novell products side by side.

For more on the Microsoft-Novell partnership:
Red Hat: We will be here in one year, Novell will not

Microsoft-Novell deal creates OSS competition

IP takes center stage in Microsoft-Novell partnership

"Others have written about 'Mutually Assured Destruction' -- that Novell had the broadest Linux indemnification program and that Novell was thought to have enough in its own patent portfolio to keep a standoff alive for many years to come," he said. "A robust standoff doesn't make a very good platform to better serve the customer and grow the market. We chose to work together to address patents in order to pursue deeper business and technical collaboration. We chose to serve the customer."

The defense was lost on the Samba team, however, whose letter made it clear Novell's explanation to date was unacceptable.

"For Novell to make this deal shows a profound disregard for the relationship that they have with the free software community. We are, in essence, their suppliers, and Novell should know that they have no right to make self-serving deals on behalf of others, which run contrary to the goals and ideals of the free software community.

"Using patents as competitive tools in the free software world is not acceptable. We call upon Novell to work with the Software Freedom Law Center to undo the patent agreement and acknowledge its obligations as a beneficiary of the free software community," the letter said.

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