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.”