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06.22.08

Novell, Microsoft… and IBM… Maybe Oracle Too (Part II)

Posted in GNU/Linux, GPL, IBM, Intellectual Monopoly, Microsoft, Novell, Oracle, Red Hat, SLES/SLED at 1:03 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

In Part 1, we wrote rather cautiously about Oracle’s relationship with Red Hat and then reiterated known facts about IBM. This is where it gets trickier because we now introduce what’s not sufficiently substantiated but nonetheless worthy of consideration. It seems to have received a nod from Novell.

Some Background Information

Who is Ron Hovsepian? According to Wikipedia, “Hovsepian held management and executive positions at IBM Corporation over a 17 year period, including worldwide general manager of IBM’s distribution industries, managing global hardware and software development, sales, marketing and services.”

Our sources are close enough to Ron Hovsepian himself and it’s interesting to note that he was appointed and made CEO between the time that IBM helped Novell acquire SUSE (Hovsepian Joined Novell in June 2003 and in November 2003 Novell bought SuSE) and just shortly before negotiations with Microsoft began, namely around May or June 2006. Hovsepian was appointed CEO in June 2006 when he replaced Jack Messman. Pay careful attention to the proximity of dates.

Linux as Power, Not Freedom

According to the Linux Foundation’s annual conference (the Summit), which last took place in Austin, representatives might insist that they only care for Linux solutions, not desktops. Novell says that too: “solutions”. In other words, the key element which is Free software, with the GNU GPL at its very core, is viewed as a nuisance, as though its kind of stands in their way. Proprietary or Free, to the big vendors it’s all about power, not freedom.

Richard Stallman’s philosophy and the accompanying licence are seen as discomforting to those who want to produce “solutions”, so ways of working around the licences seems desirable. While every company is acting selfishly for sure, some remember to respect their supplier (volunteer programmers) and recall what they came from. Mutual honour is definitely a prerequisite to the success of this relationship.

Over at IBM, with Irving‘s departure (he retired quite recently, having put the company’s focus on GNU/Linux and Free software), one can only hope that the leadership is still truly dedicated to the cause. Bob Sutor makes some solid migrations to GNU/Linux, but he still uses non-Free platforms sometimes. Being a decision-maker, he has impact.

Prelude to Assumption/Hypothesis

We finally turn our attention to the theory of a large-scale collusion — a gentle one nonetheless. At the heart of it we picture a battle played by executives and lawyers behind some people’s backs. Our source never really took the allegations of the OpenDocument Foundation working for Microsoft in disguise too seriously, but they did hurt the ODF cause a lot. Before that, Gary Edwards was leading a small but influent band of OpenOffice.org forkers and disruptors.

According to our source, a lot of what’s at play is related to Novell. Factors and forces that include Novell, Microsoft and ODF are part of it, and surely enough IBM feels bitter with Novell’s ambivalent yet receptive approach to OOXML. The same goes for Sun. We know this for a fact. Miguel’s OOXML affinity, for instance, is a big pain in the neck to them.

Novell informed several different ‘camps’ of FOSS developers about the agreement with Microsoft before it got signed. Mono and Samba developers, for instance, knew about it in advance and had time to voice their opinion. Jeremy Allison told us that he regretted not protesting more loudly.

Ron Hovsepian and other top executives tried to explain to leaders of several projects (primarily those impacted by the Microsoft deal) what that agreement all about. It was essential in order for friction to be reduced before the bomb is finally dropped. After all, Novell needed to make sure that, at least in the future, if possible, these projects will could continue working with Novell. It’s collaboration under Microsoft’s claws.

People who are associated with the FSF knew about this deal in advance as well (at least 2 of them). The legality questions — specially w.r.t. GPLv2 — was explained, but the wound was well understood by Hovsepian et al who disregarded it. There was too much at stake and the GPL wasn’t a priority high enough.

The Theory

Some believe that he idea of the Novell/Microsoft agreement came from IBM and Oracle. They went to Novell with the following plan: Microsoft would be very much interested in two things with Novell: polluting/diluting the Linux brand and message (Microsoft could also have a dent in the Linux market). This is always overlooked,

“Microsoft is very much interested in Novell’s IP. Remember SCO?”Microsoft is very much interested in Novell’s IP. Remember SCO? Remember e-directory? Remember Netware, Groupwise, etc? Well, Novell has a very nice IP portfolio that many companies of similar yield cannot enjoy. In short, that agreement was a boon for Microsoft but we all know this.

From the other side, the whole plan was a poker game that would tie down the hands of Microsoft with Novell and in the end neutralising Microsoft’s IP while IBM and Oracle could attack.

“Perhaps”, says the source, “and I would tend to buy into that option, Novell was quickly overthrown by Microsoft’s dance of the dead. I don’t know.

“The ultimate plan was to strangle Microsoft’s IP and that it was all the idea of IBM and Oracle.”

Take this part with a grain of salt and decide for yourself if it makes sense to you. It sure seems to have struck a nerve with Novell’s CEO.

A Reader’s Take

One reader who was intrigued with the first part about possible secrets behind the Microsoft-Novell deal wrote:

“It sounds as if the whole point of that deal was the patent protection element that Microsoft supposedly slipped in at the last minute and to which Novell didn’t really agree and sloughs off as unimportant. I’ll have to wait and see.

“The comment I really wanted to make here is that I am not really surprised at all at IBM’s involvement here. First, in the days prior to Microsoft’s monopoly, IBM had a similar monopoly in the market for mainframe hardware. They employed similar tactics to Microsoft to fend off competition that wanted to make compatible hardware. See Amdahl. It was IBM who coined the tactic of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Part of the reason Gates took such a hard-core stance in the anti-trust case was that he saw what happened to IBM after they complied with the anti-trust decision that went against them.

“I suppose it’s a bit unreasonable to think that a leopard could completely change its spots. While IBM has undeniably done some important things to promote Linux, one should never forget that their motivation isn’t out of any love for free software. They use Linux as a competitive tool against Microsoft. There is no love lost between these two companies. Consider what happened with OS/2, which was originally a joint project between IBM and Microsoft. Even more recently, consider the time when Microsoft announced their Palladium project, which is embodied in Vista. IBM came out and tried to assuage the fears of the Linux camp that they would be locked out by announcing support for “Trusted Computing.” In the current scenario, obviously without knowing any of the details, I suppose I would nonetheless be safe to say that the Novell-Microsoft deal is something that Novell gets credit for initiating – “coopetition.” That used to have such a nice ring to it, but not anymore.”

Novell pisses on GNU/Linux codebase since 2006

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7 Comments

  1. casualvisitor said,

    June 22, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    Gravatar

    Tasteless illustration falls back on you.

  2. Roy Schestowitz said,

    June 22, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    Gravatar

    Is that you, eet, with a new nymshift? Your IP seems suspicious enough, never mind the bogus details you put in.

    The trolling sandbox is there —>>>

    Thank you.

  3. Woods said,

    June 22, 2008 at 11:54 pm

    Gravatar

    Where is IBM+Oracle’s game headed? Are they trying to take back the server-space from MS?
    (Watching from the sidelines, it *seems* like in the last, say, 10 years, MS Servers + SQL Server have really been grabbing their share of the server/db-space)

    So they would have RedHat play the patsy, be *the* server-solution for PCs (while IBM still have their mainframes) with Oracle-DBs of course (DB2 again on the mainframes) and ODF/Lotus Symphony down everyone’s throat and who cares of the desktop since the real money is in the server-space?
    (insert usual disclaimer for pure speculation here…)

  4. Roy Schestowitz said,

    June 23, 2008 at 12:50 am

    Gravatar

    I thought about it some more.

    Hovsepian began working with Microsoft as he was appointed CEO. Some people remember only ‘interop’ as his excuse, but what he said is that some clients had ‘IP’ issue on the table and wanted them resolved. Some people, like Asay, believe it’s nonsense and nobody ever had such issues (many still buy Red Hat, no?), so the question is whether IBM, his former employer, was among those pushing for these ‘IP’ issues to be resolved. Bear in mind that IBM uses a lot of SUSE in HPC and the mainframe (especially the latter).

    There are more questions to be answered here.

  5. Woods said,

    June 23, 2008 at 1:18 am

    Gravatar

    Well that would be a neat answer. Now IBM doesn’t have to worry about MS coming after them with licensing issues.
    Which begs the question: how much of MS’s IP-posturing about Linux/FOSS has been directed at FOSS-community and how much at other companies benefiting from that work (a’la IBM)?

  6. Roy Schestowitz said,

    June 23, 2008 at 1:41 am

    Gravatar

    You probably know this by now, but let’s repeat some older stories.

    “Microsoft currently collects royalties from some companies that use Linux in their computing environments, Gutierrez said. However, he declined to indicate the number, the dollar amount Microsoft receives from those payments, or identify any of the companies by name.” (Source)

    Also see this:

    LinuxWorld: One of the persistent rumors that’s going around is that certain large IT customers have already been paying Microsoft for patent licensing to cover their use of Linux, Samba and other free software projects. And the Novell deal — isn’t it just taking that and doing the same kind of thing wholesale?

    Allison: Yes, that’s true, actually. I mean I have had people come up to me and essentially off the record admit that they had been threatened by Microsoft and had got patent cross license and had essentially taken out a license for Microsoft patents on the free software that they were using, which they then cannot redistribute. I think that would be the restriction. I would have to look quite carefully. So, essentially that’s not allowed. But they’re not telling anyone about it. They’re completely doing it off the record.

    The problem with the Novell deal is — Novell gave Microsoft what Microsoft dearly wanted, which is a public admission that they think that Linux violates the Microsoft patent. So, that’s the difference between this and the sort of off-the-record quiet deals. This one is public. This one is Novell admitting, “yes, we think that Linux violates Microsoft patents.” Now, of course, Novell has come out and said, “no, that’s not what we said at all. We don’t think that.” To which, of course, Microsoft publicly humiliated them and said, “oh, yes, that’s really what you were saying.” It’s kind of funny. They couldn’t even wait until the press conference was over to start threatening users with a Linux system.

    IBM, Novell and other big vendors are quite hopeless for one to work with and trust; they are, by design self-serving. At the end of the day, the FSF et al are the only ones whose word we can trust.

    Moreover, the US and the UK are far behind it terms of FOSS adoption. They would be the last to embrace Free software and it’s quite important to ensure software patents never have other countries ruined. With the ACTA [PDF] being pushed through ‘underground chamber’ meetings, it’s clear that monopoly holders play very aggressively.

  7. Woods said,

    June 23, 2008 at 1:50 am

    Gravatar

    Well both articles were news to me, hadn’t considered the issue before.
    As for FSF et al being only trustworthy ones, amen.

    As for FOSS adoption, from where I’m sitting (the sidelines) the situation round here doesn’t seem much better. The job-market is pretty much dominated by Windows/.NET (well, half Java)/MOSS and such public-sector systems that *really* should be running FOSS, let alone using ODF, are not.

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