Tag Archives: Novell

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.

Maybe I’m the one missing something

Magicians make a living at misdirection, getting you to look at their right hand while they’re hiding the ball with their left hand. You’d think journalists would want to be a little more direct than that. But Neil McAllister did a whopper of a slight-of-hand recently, using more than half his column to summarize a Joel Spolsky post before jumping to a completely unrelated conclusion.

Joel’s point, and the first more-than-half of Neil’s summary, was shooting down the idea beloved of suits that programming can be reduced to a set of building blocks that can be snapped together by a non-programmer. (For a hysterically painful example of how wrong this is, and how far people will go to try to do it anyway, see The Customer-Friendly System at The Daily WTF.)

Joel covered the ground pretty well, so I was wondering where Neil was going with this. Once I got to it, I had to re-read the segue three times to see what connection I was missing:

Don’t you believe it. If, as Brooks wrote, the hard part of software development is the initial design, then no amount of radical workflows or agile development methods will get a struggling project out the door, any more than the latest GUI rapid-development toolkit will.

And neither will open source. Too often, commercial software companies decide to turn over their orphaned software to “the community” — if such a thing exists — in the naïve belief that open source will be a miracle cure to get a flagging project back on track. This is just another fallacy, as history demonstrates.

If there’s a fundamental connection between open source and “Lego programming” I don’t know about it. Maybe Neil makes the connection for us:

As Jamie Zawinski recounts, the resulting decision to rewrite [Netscape’s] rendering engine from scratch derailed the project anywhere from six to ten months.

Which, as far as I can see, has nothing to do with the fact that it was open source. In fact it seems more like what Lotus did when they delayed 1-2-3 for 16 months while they rewrote it to fit in 640k, by which time Microsoft had taken the market with Excel. Actually that’s another point that Joel made, sooner and better.

Is Neil trying to say that Lego programming assumes that code can be interchangeable, and man-month scheduling assumes that programmers are interchangeable? Maybe, and that’s even an interesting idea. But that’s not what he said, and if I flesh out the idea it won’t be in the context of a critique of someone else’s work.

Or maybe it was an opportunity to take a shot at the idea of “the community”. Although in his very next column he talks about the year ahead for the open source community, negative community reaction to the Novell/Microsoft deal, and praise from the community for Sun open-sourcing Java. Does he really dispute the existence of a community, or was it hit bait?

Okay, so where did I start? Right, with misdirection. So the formula seems to be: quote a better columnist making a point that I like, completely change the subject with the word “therefore”, summarize another author making my second point, and send it to InfoWorld. Am I ready to be a “real” pundit yet?