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.
That’s their preference, yes.
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.