Novell investors may be cheering the Linux vendor's historic partnership with Microsoft, but Linux advocates had an entirely different reaction Thursday, expressing concerns that the deal may hint at future patent lawsuits and possibly even violate Linux's software license.
"Excuse me while I go throw up," wrote Pamela Jones, the editor of the Groklaw.net blog, which tracks legal issues in the free software community. "I gather Microsoft no longer thinks Linux is a cancer or communism. Now it just wants a patent royalty."
Microsoft and Novell agreed Thursday to work together on marketing and development of their respective products and pledged to make it easier for Windows and Novell's Suse Linux to co-exist in the data center.
But, included in that announcement is a patent cross-licensing agreement that is raising concerns. As part of the agreement, Microsoft has said that it will not sue noncommercial Linux developers and users of Suse Linux, but some worry that this move leaves the door open for the company to sue other Linux companies or even Linux users.
"This is actually really bad news," said Bruce Perens, a well-known Linux advocate. "It sets up Microsoft to assert its patents against all commercial open source users. The deal is going to be, 'You have to buy Microsoft-licensed Linux distribution from Novell or there is an implicit threat that Microsoft will assert their patents against you."
Perens even questioned whether Novell's patent agreement might violate Linux's software license, known as the GNU General Public License (GPL), which prohibits Linux distributors from obtaining exclusive patent licenses. "Is Novell going to break the GPL, because the GPL says if you offer a patent license, it's for everyone?" Perens asked.
Microsoft has structured its deal with Novell to avoid any conflict with the GPL, said David Kaefer, Director of Intellectual Property and Standards with Microsoft.
The company with the most to lose from Perens's "implicit threat" is Red Hat, the dominant Linux distributor. Red Hat's stock (RHAT) dropped nearly 25 percent the week before on news that Oracle planned to begin offering competing Linux support offerings, and it was down again Thursday on news of the Microsoft deal.
At a press event in San Francisco Microsoft Senior Vice President and General Counsel Brad Smith declined to comment whether Microsoft thought that Novell rival Red Hat's Linux distribution violates Microsoft's intellectual property.
Red Hat executives were not immediately available to comment for this story.