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Keats softens on Novell

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Professor Derek Keats has stated in an open letter that he has "softened his stance" with respect to the University of the Western Cape's (UWC's) dealings with Novell.

The letter, addressed to a variety of free and open source software (FOSS) workshop organisations, follows yesterday's FOSS workshop hosted by the Cape IT Initiative in Cape Town.

He initially threatened to sever links with Novell because of its recent covenant with Microsoft.

In the letter, Keats stated that he still he believes Novell has "crossed the line" in terms of the consequences of its Microsoft deal for the wider FOSS community.

However, he noted, it may be more constructive to adopt an approach that involves more collaboration and engagement between Novell and the wider FOSS community. This includes engaging with anti-software patent organisation Freedom To Innovate South Africa.

Keats believes Novell can further re-build bridges by assisting with "ongoing initiatives to help eliminate the patent menace locally". It should also continue to interact with the South African FOSS community to "ensure our SME sector is not at risk from the badly-broken patent system in SA and elsewhere".

His key concerns include the fact that Microsoft has registered more than 100 software patents and is lobbying for the legalisation of software patents in SA.

Willingness to take action

"The choice for Novell is stark - either they continue raising the spectre of patent infringement in SA, or they join the voices calling for the lowering of the litigious temperature and support the movement to strengthen the enforcement of existing exclusions, ultimately eliminating software patents altogether," said Keats.

He pointed out that Novell's covenant with Microsoft "created the appearance the company is pursuing the first strategy, thus angering the FOSS community".

Keats has reiterated his willingness to take action with any company whose products UWC uses and which acts in any way that undermines the FOSS community.

"Companies must know that UWC is serious when it comes to its stance on freedom in the digital age," he said.

Keats added that, having discussed his concerns with Novell SA MD Stafford Masie and others, "I believe that continued interaction with Novell to encourage the company to rebuild bridges with the community is both desirable and feasible."

Keats stated that for the immediate future, he would not follow through on his threat to eliminate Novell products from the university, but would rather continue dialogue with the company.

"We will be watching to see how Novell does indeed rebuild the damaged bridges.

"Like Novell, we live in a complex world and, no doubt, like Novell, we will make mistakes. When we do, we hope the community will also apply pressure on us to come back across whatever line we have crossed. Freedom is at the heart of it all, and must be protected."

Read the full text of Professor Keats' open letter.

Related story:
Keats to monitor Novell-MS covenant

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