Microsoft splitting open source community

We have already written about the agreement between Microsoft and Novell, in which the open source developer has obtained a patent infringement “get out of jail free” card from the Redmond company. As expected, this has now created several replies from the free and open source community.

Firstly, Samba developers have requested Novell to reconsider because they think that this is a tactic that will separate commercial and non-commercial users of open source software, and therefore will balkanise the community. They say:

The patent agreement struck between Novell and Microsoft is a divisive agreement. It deals with users and creators of free software differently depending on their “commercial” versus “non-commercial” status, and deals with them differently depending on whether they obtained their free software directly from Novell or from someone else. The goals of the Free Software community and the GNU GPL allow for no such distinctions.”

And piling on the pressure on Novell, Eben Moglen has now stated that GPL v3 will be redrafted in order to make clear that this agreement will be in violation of the GPL. Moglen says that “GPL version 3 will be adjusted so the effect of the current deal is that Microsoft will by giving away access to the very patents Microsoft is trying to assert.”

I think that this is further evidence of the widening split in the Free and Open Source movement. GPL v3 is becoming more and more restrictive, up to the point where it seems clear that its definition of “free” is anything but. Microsoft seems to be playing the split quite well, much like a predator picking the slower wildebeest from the pack (or dare I say, picking the weakest gnu?)

My main concern is that some of the language being used is redolent of the Cold War/War on Terror Manichaean rhetoric of “us versus them”. Read this statement from Moglen, then exchange the word Microsoft with “Soviet Union” or “Iran”, and you will see what I mean:

I would not be advancing the course of discussions if I made any statement about who we are talking to here in specific terms. I will only say that it is my experience that Microsoft has never been in any hurry to identify itself as in direct negotiation with the free world…. In general, it is better at this point to say that all lines of communication that I think are necessary in order to resolve this situation peacefully are open, that we have not been unable to reach any parties that we thought it would be prudent or productive to talk to.”

Da, comrade.

Comments 4

  1. When exactly was there *not* a difference in opinion between the Open Source and Free Software movement? This differentiation was started by Raymond and the rest and has continued to the present day between those who think that this is merely a discussion about a technical fix (open souce) and those who think that the value of freedom to tinker is *the* key issue (free software). Trying to pretend that the free software groups are somehow a bit loony or whatever merely reproduces the same kind of rhetoric that you claim that the free software is using against Microsoft. Instead try to be sensitive to the fact that the free software community has a set of value which they want to preserve – and respect that. Its not like free software are being overly paranoid or anything – clearly with the leak of the Haloween documents etc shows that Microsoft would like to eat them for breakfast as it has with many of its other competitors…

  2. Hello David,I agree that Microsoft's intentions are not particularly good, but my worry is with the escalation in the rhetoric used. While I think that Moglen and the FSF have all the right in the world to draft GPL v3 in whatever manner they see fit, I'm concerned that this new clause, and the existing DRM text, will finally serve to split the community.So far, the GPL has served as the glue that unites both camps. My concern is that there will be a split between GPL v2 and v3 users.

  3. I think you are forgetting that the real split is between the BSD and GPL groups. But anyway, the version 3 of GPL may cause some to stick at version 2 and others to move on, but I can't see how diversity in FLOSS is necessarily a bad thing. Rather than a unitary conception of community I think it is better to understand FLOSS as competing interests. Anyway, if Stallman is correct in his summation, GPL v2 software developers will see their software steadily killed off through the use of DRM and patent deals leaving the GPL v3 to flourish… de facto…

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