Tag Archives: Linux

Can the FSF “Ban” Novell from selling Linux?

Novell Could Be Banned From Selling Linux: Group Claims

BOSTON – The Free Software Foundation is reviewing Novell Inc.’s right to sell new versions of Linux operating system software after the open-source community criticized Novell for teaming up with Microsoft Corp.

The problem is that the FSF wants all code to be free. Period.

That’s their preference, yes.

They want to make the GPL so darned viral that no one can include any copyrighted or patented components Period.

No, they want all the components on which they hold the copyrights to be protected by those copyrights. And they want those components to be freely available to anyone who agrees to make their modifications available under the same terms.

You can’t modify and distribute Microsoft’s code without permission. You can’t modify and distribute GPL code without permission.
The way you get permission to distribute Microsoft’s code is to pay them a lot of money, or cross-license your own code. The way you get permission to distribute GPL code is to release your modifications under the GPL.
Microsoft can destroy your business model by bundling a version of what you make. GPL-using authors can destroy your business model by releasing a free version of what you make.
If you don’t want to be bound by Microsoft’s terms, write your own code. If you don’t want to be bound by the GPL, write your own code.

 
How is GPL viral while Microsoft is business?

How can the FSF “ban” Novel from selling “Linux” when Linux itself is not wholely licensed under the GPL and not wholely owned by FSF? Sure, there are many GPL components within the typical Linux distro, but not all of them have to be.

According to Answers.com:

More Than a Gigabuck: Estimating GNU/Linux’s Size, a 2001 study of Red Hat Linux 7.1, found that this distribution contained 30 million source lines of code. … Slightly over half of all lines of code were licensed under the GPL. The Linux kernel was 2.4 million lines of code, or 8% of the total.

So the first point is that no, the FSF can not ban Novell from selling a GNU/Linux-based distribution, as long as all the current license terms are followed.

However, the holder of the Linux trademark, Linux Torvalds, could choose to prohibit them from using that mark to describe what they’re selling. (See Micosoft / Sun / Java™) Though I haven’t seen anything suggesting he plans to do so.

Next, the Linux kernel is covered under the GPL, so even if the the FSF doesn’t hold the copyright it’s entirely possible the kernel authors could ask the FSF to pursue any violations on their behalf. And I suspect Stallman and Moglen would be more than happy to do so.

The bottom line, I think, is that business people who don’t understand the technicalities will either see a deal with Microsoft as a reason to choose Novell for any Linux plans, or they will see the controversy as a reason to avoid Linux plans altogether. Either conclusion benefits Microsoft.

People who do understand the details will see that Novell offers them a conditional, time-limited right to use a specific version of Linux, which may or may not interoperate better with Windows systems, which can be effectively “end-of-lifed” at any time by Microsoft.

And this is bad why?

If you try hard enough, I suppose it’s possible to spin anything into an attack on your pet target. But the consistency with which Neil McAllister sounds the call of doom and gloom for all things open source is really quite astonishing. Especially when you consider he writes the Open Enterprise column for Infoworld.

Take his January 29th column about the formation of the Linux Foundation for example:

On the surface, the union of Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) and the Free Standards Group (FSG) seems like a natural fit. Open standards and open source software are two great ideas that go great together.

But wouldn’t it make more sense to call the merged organization the Open Source and Standards Lab, or the Free Software and Standards Group? Why did they have to go and call it the Linux Foundation?

On the one hand, it seems a shame that the group should narrow the scope of its activities to focus on a single project. Linux may be the open source poster child du jour, but it’s hardly the only worthwhile project around.

If Neil had bothered to read his own magazine’s newsletter the previous week, he would have known that:

With Linux now an established operating system presence for embedded, desktop and server systems, the primary evangelizing mission that the OSDL and FSG embarked upon in 2000 has come to an end, Zemlin said. The focus for the foundation going forward is on what the organization can do to help the Linux community more effectively compete with its primary operating system rival Microsoft.

The combination of the two Linux consortiums was “inevitable,” said Michael Goulde, senior analyst with Forrester Research. “The challenge Linux faces is the same one Unix faced and failed — how to become a single standard.”

So what’s wrong with focusing on Linux, anyway?

But then again, maybe it’s not so strange — not if you conclude that the Linux Foundation isn’t any kind of philanthropic foundation at all. It’s an industry trade organization, the likes of which we’ve seen countless times before. Judging by its charter, its true goal is little more than plain, old-fashioned corporate marketing.

As such, the Linux Foundation is a unique kind of hybrid organization, all right — but it’s not the union of open source and open standards that make it one. Rather, it stands as an example of how to combine open source with all the worst aspects of the proprietary commercial software industry. How noble.

This is really amazing. No one ever claimed that the partners in this merger were anything other than industry trade organizations, but the fact that the new foundation will continue the work of it’s members is somehow un-noble. And nobility is the standard by which we should judge those who are trying to make Linux more competitive in the market.

His grammar and spelling may be better than that of the stereotypical Linux fanboys, who famously attack less-rabid supporters for their lack of purity. Or maybe he just has a better editor. But all the craft in the world doesn’t disguise the fact that Neil’s opinions are rarely more useful than the ramblings of an anonymous Usenet troll.