SALT LAKE CITY—While Novells controversial patent deal with Microsoft got a lot of attention at the companys annual BrainShare conference here this week, CEO Ron Hovsepian is unapologetic about the move.
He argues that the deal has been good for Linux adoption as well as for Novell, pointing to several large deals done recently that would not have happened had the Microsoft agreement not been in place.
The part of the deal Novell struck with Microsoft that has most angered some in the open-source community is the covenant not to sue, which Hovsepian told eWEEK in an interview is “an agreement that is squarely driven off of our desire to help our customers.”
“So, while the agreement we signed has to do with interoperability, one of the elements that was added at the request of Microsoft was a covenant not to sue customers. Thats what it ended up becoming,” he said.
The reality of the agreement is that Microsoft and Novell can sue one another as there is no cross-licensing under the agreement—it is really just a covenant not to sue customers, to keep that discussion away from customers, he said.
“We would not violate GPL2 [General Public License 2]—we are very committed to that. We are very committed to Linux, and the bottom line is that we are building an extra layer on top of our public position already on patents. We have also invested in the Open Invention Network, which is another layer of protection, and we view this [deal with Microsoft] as just another layer of protection for the customer so they will adopt Linux into their enterprise,” he said.
The original proposal between Novell and Microsoft did not include the covenant not to sue, Hovsepian said. “That was one of the business things [Microsoft] wanted out of it, and, in defense of them, it was really probably secondary or tertiary in the discussions and it took a little bit of time for that to come out in those discussions,” he said.
Asked by eWEEK if the deal would have still gone ahead had Novell refused to agree to the covenant not to sue, Hovsepian said, “I honestly dont know. We were very centered on trying to do something around interoperability for customers. I honestly dont know. Its an interesting question.”
Asked if he regrets agreeing to that part of the deal given the controversy that erupted over it, Hovsepian said not at all. Part of Novells maturation as a business and a member of the open-source community and custodian to that community means that it sits in a unique position, where it is balancing customer relationships with community relationships.
“It is not our job to dictate what happens to the community. They are going to dictate it, and were going to work with it. But we recognize that it is customers who give us the life blood to help grow the community, and if this is a need on their side, we have to balance all those pieces together, and thats why we made the decision,” he said.
But what Hovsepian does regret is that he did not release an open letter he wrote to the community a week or so earlier than he did, as he believes that would have “cleared up a lot of confusion and reduced the emotions associated with it. So that part I would have done better,” he said.
Hovsepian also reiterated, strongly, that Novell does not acknowledge any patent infringements with open source “in any way, shape or form. We would never do that, as we believe there arent any,” he said.
Novell competitor Red Hat has refused to enter into a similar agreement with Microsoft not to sue, and criticized Novell for doing so.
Others, like open-source evangelist and developer Bruce Perens and Richard Stallman, the executive director of the Free Software Foundation, agree with Red Hats view.
Perens held a press conference March 19 in Salt Lake City to coincide with the first day of Novells BrainShare conference and later released a statement from Stallman, who is currently rewriting the GPL.
The statement said that the GPL is designed to ensure that redistributors of the program respect the freedom of those further downstream. “The GPL defends the freedom of all users by blocking the known methods of making free software proprietary,” it said.
Novell and Microsoft tried, using Microsofts patents, to give an advantage to Novell customers only. “If they get away with scaring users into paying Novell, they will deny users the most basic freedom, freedom zero: the freedom to run the program. Microsoft has been threatening free software with software patents for many years, but without a partner in our community, the only thing it could do was threaten to sue users and distributors,” the statement said.
“If nothing resists such deals, they will spread, and make a mockery of the freedom of free software. So we have decided to update the GPL not to allow such deals for the future software releases covered by GPL version 3. Anyone making a discriminatory patent pledge in connection with distribution of GPL-covered software will have to extend it to everyone. … In the mean time, lets make it clear to Novell that its conduct is not the conduct of a bona-fide member of the GNU/Linux community,” it said.
Hovsepian declined to comment on that statement until it is officially written into GPL 3 but did say that Novell is willing to work to try to strike the equilibrium of what can be done inside the market of growing Linux and the spirit of that versus what it does from a licensing perspective.
“But Im very respectful of what Richard [Stallman] and the community have to say. Novell truly does care about doing the right thing,” he said.