Microsoft has dropped another ton or three of cash on Novell and in celebration they issued a joint press release announcing this new phase of their relationship. I was never a fan of the original deal, feeling that it violated the spirit if not the letter of the GPL. Some purport that it has increased the usage of Linux in the enterprise; that's a claim for which I don't have the numbers to verify or debunk. Honestly, I sort of doubt much of anyone really does.
Now, I'm a happy OpenSuse user (loving zypper in 11, btw), and I'm very happy to see F/OSS friendly companies succeed .. but I'm not exactly rushing out to recommend Novell to everyone I know mostly because of my personal uncertainty around this whole deal. I doubt anyone at Novell particularly cares about me and my quietude, of course. =)
So I read this latest announcement, thought about the implications of it and then moved on .. until I was spammed by Novell's marketing department asking what I thought about the press release. They said that if I wanted, I could even ring up their director of marketing via instant messenger and chat about it! This is a good example of public opinion management: they evidently know that it's a sensitive area and so are trying to head off any problems by engaging people in the community directly and early on. Very early on in fact: I received my email just a few minutes after the press release was sent out and they attached a PDF of the press release to the email for my reference. Well done! (I mean that: it was a well executed plan.)
And since they asked, I thought, "Sure, why not share my thoughts!" However, I thought I'd do it here instead of over AIM or Yahoo! Messenger with Justin S., partly because I don't like being managed by other people's marketing departments, but mostly because too many of the people who do speak in non-positive terms about this deal tend do so with argumentation that is too easy to discount by simply playing the "let's be reasonable" card.
Not all of us who have issues with this deal are cranks, lunatic fringers or "FOSS community whiners" (to quote one rather snide ZDNet blogger).
I personally think that Microsoft has two roads ahead of it: continue to fight F/OSS harder and harder (and ultimately drown under a rising tide) or slowly change their course and become a true ally of F/OSS (and continue to be relevant in the tech industry). This is not unlike the changes IBM ended up having to make as a result of the events in the 80s and 90s, and it will likely take just as long to see it through. Is Microsoft's partnering with Novell a sign of them taking the former course, or the latter? I don't know, really; I do hope for all our sakes that it's the latter.
But what I do know for sure is this: it is very unfortunate that the deal is being successfully used (hijacked?) by Microsoft to continue to push the idea that Free software, and Linux in particular, caries with it a business risk in the form of intellectual property violations that leave users of it legally exposed. I think the implication that Microsoft should be allowed into the hen house, so to speak, under the pretense of "being robbed of their property" is ludicrous. It is unfortunate that Novell is involved in such a way that it makes it look like they, too, believe in and support this point of view.
The first sentence of the join press release is this: "Microsoft Corp.
and Novell Inc. are announcing an incremental investment in their relationship to meet accelerating customer demand for their business model solution, which is designed to build a bridge between open source and proprietary software to deliver interoperability and intellectual property (IP) peace of mind for organizations operating mixed-source IT environments." (Emphasis mine.)
Whatever can be said about the rest of the deal, the "IP peace of mind" bit is a classic fear, uncertainty and doubt campaign. It's not unlike SCO's "buy a license from us and be safe!" strategy from a few years back, really. Well, except that this program is actually successful: people are buying it, and that gives Microsoft's claims a legitimacy that they can then use to shop these claims around to the rest of the marketplace against Linux and F/OSS in general.
I can't help but walk away with a poor taste in my mouth because of this recurring theme that taints nearly every official communication from Microsoft and Novell surrounding it.
I wish Novell all the success in the world as they have bet their farm largely on FOSS, and I applaud that move. Their success will be all of ours, a validation of the model. But I also hope that in the process of being successful, Novell can avoid helping others cast aspersions such as we see in this press release upon the FOSS world.
(In case it isn't sufficiently clear, I'm speaking my own personal mind here as a private citizen; this blog entry should not be construed as reflecting the thoughts or positions of any projects or companies I may be associated with. I say this only because on matters such as these, I know there are others who disagree and I would not want to appear to represent them against their own opinion.)