Group may ban Novell software

By Reuters
Boston, 29 Mar 2007

A non-profit software group might ban Linux software distributor Novell from using new versions of its computer code, to punish the company for signing a patent deal with Microsoft.

The move by the Free Software Foundation (FSF) would apply to a group of programs known as the GNU operating system, which comprise the bulk of the code at the heart of the popular Linux software system, and surrounds a separately controlled group of code known as the Linux kernel.

Linux is a rival to Microsoft Windows and is distributed by Novell and dozens of competitors. It is the most popular version of free, or open source, software, which users can obtain at no cost and which developers can download and modify as long as they share changes with the public.

Novell is one of two companies that have made profitable businesses out of selling their own versions of Linux bundled with technical support, maintenance and other services.

Financial analysts say Novell would have a tough time keeping its version of Linux competitive with that of its bigger rival, Red Hat, if it lost access to future upgrades of GNU software with the latest functionality.

Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdhry has estimated it could cost Novell up to $200 million per year in extra costs on research and development and marketing to remain competitive if it were to be blocked from GNU upgrades.

The Free Software Foundation proposed the ban as it released a draft of a licensing agreement that will cover its software, along with thousands of other open source computer programs which developers choose to adopt on its terms.

"The unforeseen agreement between Microsoft and Novell, announced in November, presents grave threats to users of free software," said the foundation, adding that it made changes to the draft licence "to combat this threat".

It said arrangements like the Microsoft-Novell deal "make a mockery of free software, and we must do everything in our power to stop them".

The draft of the licence, known as GPLv3, was posted on the Web site yesterday for discussion for 60 days.

If the foundation decides to ban Novell from selling the GNU programs, it would incorporate that provision into the licence before it goes into effect at the end of June.


Members of the free software community have attacked Microsoft and Novell's cross-patent protection agreement, saying the move implies Microsoft has legal rights to Linux.

Novell spokesman Bruce Lowry declined to comment on the chances that the foundation will decide to punish his company.

"If the final version of the GPLv3 does potentially impact the agreement we have with Microsoft, we'll address that with Microsoft," Lowry said, adding Novell was committed to continuing the partnership with the software giant.

In addition to patent protections, the two companies agreed to cooperate on sales, marketing and development of software, and to promote technologies that make it easier for Windows and Linux software to work together. Microsoft made $348 million in upfront payments to Novell as part of the deal.

Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft's VP for intellectual property and licensing, said the foundation's draft licence did not "tear down the bridge Microsoft and Novell have built for their customers".

"It is unfortunate, however, that the FSF is attempting to use the GPLv3 to prevent future collaboration among industry leaders to benefit customers," he said in a statement.