Microsoft Says It Is Not Bound by GPLv3

Microsoft claims the latest Free Software Forum release has no effect on any of its Linux distribution deals.

Microsoft cleared the air July 5 on its obligations to GNU General Public License Version 3 support, declaring it will not provide support or updates for GPLv3 under the deal it penned in November with Novell to administer certificates for the Linux distribution.

Microsoft also said July 5 that its agreement with Novell, as well as those with Linux rivals Xandros and Linspire, were unaffected by the release June 29 of GPLv3 by the Free Software Foundation.

For its part, Novell said it will support customers with a regular SUSE Linux Enterprise Server subscription, regardless of the terms of the certificates provided by Microsoft.

Microsoft is "not a party to the GPLv3 license, and none of its actions are to be misinterpreted as accepting status as a contracting party of GPLv3 or assuming any legal obligations under such license," Horacio Gutierrez, Microsofts vice president of intellectual property and licensing, said July 5.

/zimages/5/28571.gifTo read more about the release of the final version of GPLv3, click here.

As a result of the ongoing statements from the FSF and others that cast doubt on Microsofts legal position and obligations with regard to GPLv3, the company decided it needed to clarify its position in that regard.

"While there have been some claims that Microsofts distribution of certificates for Novell support services, under our interoperability collaboration with Novell, constitutes acceptance of the GPLv3 license, we do not believe that such claims have a valid legal basis under contract, intellectual property or any other law," said Gutierrez, in a July 5 statement.

"In fact, we do not believe that Microsoft needs a license under GPL to carry out any aspect of its collaboration with Novell, including its distribution of support certificates, even if Novell chooses to distribute GPLv3 code in the future. Furthermore, Microsoft does not grant any implied or express patent rights under or as a result of GPLv3, and GPLv3 licensors have no authority to represent or bind Microsoft in any way," he said.

The Free Software Foundation claims that while the new license grandfathers in the controversial patent agreement and covenant not to sue between Microsoft and Novell, the hope is that the SUSE Linux Enterprise Server certificates that Microsoft is selling and giving to customers will undermine its patent threats.

/zimages/5/28571.gifIs a Linux civil war brewing? Click here to read more.

But, to avoid any doubt or legal debate on this issue, Microsoft decided not to have those SLES (SUSE Linux Enterprise Server) certificates cover support or updates of any code licensed under GPLv3. "We will closely study the situation and decide whether to expand the scope of the certificates in the future," Gutierrez said.

Regardless of the Microsoft change to those certificates, Novell will continue to distribute SLES with its full set of functionality and features, including those components that are licensed under GPLv3, said Bruce Lowry, a Novell spokesperson.

This means that Novell will support those technologies licensed under GPLv3, he said, noting that for those customers who obtain their Linux via a certificate from Microsoft in the future, Novell will provide them with a regular SLES subscription, regardless of the terms of the certificate provided by Microsoft.

"Novell will continue to put the needs of our customers first and ensure that they can take advantage of the latest version of SUSE Linux Enterprise to run their business. Customers who have already received SUSE Linux Enterprise certificates from Microsoft are not affected in any way by this, since their certificates were fully delivered and redeemed prior to the publication of the GPLv3," Lowry said.

/zimages/5/28571.gifRead more here about why Microsoft sees no conflict between its stance on patent violations and its attempts to build bridges with the open-source community.

There is also nothing in the Microsoft certificate change that diminishes the scope of the agreement between them, or that make it less compelling to prospective future customers, Lowry said, as customers would still get the latest version of SLES, even if that included GPLv3 technologies in the future.

For his part, Microsofts Gutierrez said that the deals Microsoft has done with Novell, Xandros and Linspire were unaffected by the GPLv3. "The patent covenants offered by Microsoft and Novell to each others customers are unchanged, and will continue to apply in the same way they did previously," he said.

"Our partnerships with Novell and other Linux platform and desktop providers remain strong, and the IP bridge we built with them, embodied in our collaboration agreements, remains intact. In particular, our technical and business collaboration with Novell continues to move full steam ahead, including our joint development work on virtualization, standards-based systems management, identity interoperability and document format translators," Gutierrez said.

Microsoft remains committed to working with the open-source software community to help improve interoperability for customers working in mixed-source environments and deliver IP assurance, he said.

But a Microsoft spokesperson declined to comment on whether it is talking to Linux vendor Red Hat in this regard, after the Linux vendor told eWEEK that it is willing to work with the Redmond, Wash., software maker on the interoperability front.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more about Red Hats offer to talk interoperability.

But Red Hat wants to limit those talks to pure interoperability between Windows and Red Hat Linux, with the goal of solving real customer problems. "I want to talk to the folks at Microsoft about our two operating systems and how we can work together to solve real customer problems without attaching any unrelated strings, such as intellectual property," Paul Cormier, Red Hats executive vice president of engineering, said.

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