Bruce Perens: Allegorical version of the Novell-Microsoft Patent Agreement
Once upon a time there was a software company called Novell. Novell had a friend "Big Mike" who was always getting in trouble with the law, but he was strong and had a big business. Big Mike was making big noises, threatening to beat up Novell's customers. So, Novell made a financial deal with Big Mike so that he'd promise not to beat up Novell's customers, but would instead threaten the customers of all of Novell's competitors.
When Novell signed the now-famous agreement with Microsoft, I must admit that I was quite puzzled. For a company making most of its business by selling free and open source software, this seemed unreal; maybe there was a good reason for that, after all. But when I read the part on the patents and the indemnification of customers, I really found out that it was quite odd and contradicting anything I ever read about the GPL.
I have however refrained from giving in the Novell-bashing fashion for several reasons.
This article reflects my personal point of view only, and does not mean that the OpenOffice.org project nor my company, Ars Aperta, endorse this opinion in any way.
Several years ago, I was an intern at Novell. I used to be the « Linux guy » in their Paris office. It meant that I was more or less in charge of training and explaining the local sales force what Free Software was all about, and how to market it to enterprise customers. It was quite of an experience, since Suse had just been acquired. I also knew and know several people at Novell, mostly because Novell is an important contributor of the OpenOffice.org project.
Following the announcement, I was thus quickly in contact with folks at Novell.
Novell on Thursday said it has assigned Susan Heystee, the company's recently named vice president and general manager for global strategic partners, to manage its partnership with Microsoft.
UPDATE: More details Here.
Balancing the needs of a public company that sells open source software is no easy task--just ask Ron Hovsepian. Hovsepian, the CEO of Novell, Inc., is getting an up-close and personal education in just how demanding those challenges are, as he and his company continue to come under fire for the November 2 partnership announcement with Microsoft.
Almost immediately after announcement, once jaws were collectively lifted off the floor, the community was polarized in their reaction. Many saw the positive technological and business benefits of the relationship, but there seemed to be just as many questions about the nature and rationale for the litigious aspects of the new partnership--specifically, the promise by Microsoft not to enforce their patent portfolio on Novell customers or on non-commercial software developers.
As time went on, the intellectual property segment of the partnership completely overshadowed the other parts of the agreement--a situation further exacerbated by the Microsoft CEO's public statements that indicate he, at least, still believes that Linux does indeed infringe on Microsoft's IP in an undisclosed manner. Despite a quick public response from Novell that argued against Ballmer's insinuations, community opinion about Novell has become decidedly negative in the past couple of weeks.
Which prompted the question to Hovsepian in an interview with LinuxPlanet yesterday: when Ballmer made those remarks, didn't you want to toss a chair in his office? A weak joke, which drew an appropriately weak chuckle, but an honest response: "it's definitely frustrating."