July 6, 2007 2:14 PM PDT

Microsoft tries evading new GPL grasp

Microsoft on Thursday took steps to avoid entanglement with a new version of the General Public License, the most widely used license in the free and open-source software domain.

The Redmond, Wash.-based company long has objected to the GPL and generally prefers its secretive, proprietary software development practice. But a November partnership with Linux seller Novell, under which Microsoft sells certificates entitling customers to Novell's Suse Linux Enterprise Server support subscriptions and guarantees it won't sue those customers for patent infringement, brought Microsoft into closer contact with the GPL.

A new provision in version 3 of the General Public License (GPL), released last week, is designed to turn such patent-protection deals to the advantage of GPL software. But Microsoft said it's not affected and is steering clear of involvement with the license.

"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," the company said in a statement. "To avoid any doubt or legal debate on this issue, Microsoft has decided that the Novell support certificates that we distribute to customers will not entitle the recipient to receive from Novell, or any other party, any subscription for support and updates relating to any code licensed under GPLv3."

Novell, meanwhile, said the software is still supported. "Independent of Microsoft's position, we would like to make clear our commitment to our customers that Novell will continue to distribute Suse Linux Enterprise Server with its full set of functionality and features, including those components that are licensed under GPLv3," it said in a statement.

The Free Software Foundation said that despite Microsoft's assertions, its behavior suggests the company is party to GPLv3.

"If they truly believe that GPLv3 presents no obstacle to their patent arrangements with free software distributors, why won't their coupons be good for GPLv3-covered programs?" said Brett Smith, the foundation's licensing compliance engineer. "It looks like they're spooked to me."

A variety of licenses govern the many components of Suse Linux Enterprise Server, and none in the existing product uses GPLv3. But one widely used utility, the "tar" command for compressing and decompressing files, already is under GPLv3, and Novell said it intends to incorporate GPLv3 components in updates

Microsoft's pre-emptive move highlights how seriously it takes the GPL since the free and open-source software movement has grown from an academic curiosity to a powerful force in the software industry. And it shows the complicated intellectual property questions software users must reckon with as proprietary and free software worlds collide.

Novell is at the center of this particular fracas. It sells both types of software; it has a controversial partnership with Microsoft that's providing much-needed revenue; and it has publicly disagreed with Microsoft's assertion that Linux and other free and open-source software infringe its patents.

"The question now for customers is what are they to make of the relationship, at this point, given that (Microsoft and Novell) differ on support, patents and the implications," said RedMonk analyst Stephen O'Grady.

Two major customers who bought the certificates, American International Group and Deutsche Bank, didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Microsoft-Novell partnership threw a wrench in the GPLv3 works, but the Free Software Foundation threw one right back by adding new language to the new GPL.

"If you arrange to provide patent protection to some of the people who get the software from you, that protection is automatically extended to everyone who receives the software, no matter how they get it," Smith said in a statement. "This means that the patent protection Microsoft has extended to Novell's customers would be extended to everyone who uses any software Novell distributes under GPLv3."

Microsoft sees things differently.

"While there have been some claims that Microsoft's 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," Microsoft said in its statement. "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."

Novell declined to say whether it agrees with Microsoft or the foundation about the patent issue. "We won't be making public legal interpretations," spokesman Bruce Lowry said.

An abstract debate becomes real when it comes to Microsoft's certificates for Novell SLES support. Open-source fan and Groklaw author Pamela Jones criticized Microsoft for backing out of its commitments, but Microsoft said its actions only apply to future certificates.

"There is no impact with respect to customers who have already consumed Novell certificates from Microsoft. These certificates were fully delivered by Novell and redeemed by customers prior to the existence of the GPLv3 license," Horacio Gutierrez, Microsoft's vice president of intellectual property and licensing, said in a statement. "These certificates are now part of a direct support relationship between Novell and its customers, to which Microsoft is not a party."

See more CNET content tagged:
GPLv3, GPL, Novell Inc., SuSE Linux Enterprise Server, enterprise server


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
The emperor has spoken?
Gee what a surprise. MS is not respecting others IP.

Did MS think they could take advantage of the GPL without adhering to its terms and responsibilities?

They will learn that a simple decree is not enough. This will be a huge mistake that will cost them dearly.

If they want to profit off of someones work, they must respect the terms that allowed them to do so in the first place.

Hopefully, Novell will use this to break the agreement.
Posted by qwerty75 (1164 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Agreement was before GPL3
Microsoft and Novell made thier agreement before GPL3 existed. It was the linux community that wrote and approved of the GPL3 afterwards and do not deny the intent of the language added was to stab the microsoft/novell deal in the back. Microsoft said they will adhere to the rules as they were written when the deal was made. It was the linux community that intentionally changed the rules to nix the deal. Gee what a surprise. NOT!
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
Link Flag
Novell should keep to the agreement.
Even if they don't it won't matter.

What MS says is irrelevant, it's what the judges decide that matters. Any MS patent lawsuit is likely to be met with a quote from GPL3, and it's the judges who decide whether or not to consider that a valid defense.
Posted by Maccess (610 comments )
Link Flag
Ride em High Cowboy!
"But Microsoft said it's not affected and is steering clear of involvement with the license..." Well with 90% Plus market share, eComStation 2.0 as your "proprietary" Brother and Partner: <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.ecomstation.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.ecomstation.com/</a> ; and, with the only other obstacle being the ISO compliant Office Standards being the "penalty weight" as the race gets complicated and headed for the finishing line... again, as this subject line reads, the chant is: "Ride em High Cowboy"... how ever this may be interpreted! Ha, Ha, Ha.......
Posted by Commander_Spock (3123 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Won't matter
Microsoft simply doesn't *care*.
In the past, they've stolen code, got caught, taken to court, then
simply paid whatever the fine was and moved on.
Microsoft got caught lying to a federal judge (altering video), and it
resulted in nothing.
The list goes on and on and on, but in the end, Microsoft can out-
litigate, out-spend and out-wait anyone and everyone.
As long as people continue giving Microsoft a never-ending supply
of cash, no matter what they do, in the end, they will win.
Posted by GGGlen (491 comments )
Reply Link Flag
So very true...
Well said and very true.
Posted by drfrost (467 comments )
Link Flag
Talk about stirring up a hornet's nest...
The fanatical leaders of the OSM are really leading open source vendors down a primrose path. I just have to laugh once again. They think they are being clever (like rats), but in the end Microsoft's going to stick it to them all but good.
Posted by WJeansonne (480 comments )
Reply Link Flag
good luck with that
between what Apple is doing, the backroom takeover by linux, and
the craptasticgasm that is vista, MS is showing that they are, and
have always been, a pathetic little paranoid company. people fear
their FUD less every day.

face it, they are no longer the 800lb gorilla. they can't stick it to
Posted by shane--2008 (343 comments )
Link Flag
Microsoft will continue to lie, cheat and steal, and because they've
enough supporters who think it's awesome that they can get away
it (and have enough money to make it so), they'll win in the end.
Posted by GGGlen (491 comments )
Link Flag
Well, let's see...
* MSFT is losing developer mindshare to OSS projects and OSes.

* MSFT is seeing sales of Vista go flat to failing, threatening one
of the two pillars that actually hold the company up (the other
being MS Office).

* Where once MSFT had a stranglehold on what an OEM chose to
pre-load on their computers, Dell decided recently to buck the
trend... and are expanding their line of Ubuntu Linux preloaded

MSFT probably saw at least some of it coming, which is why
they've been on a patent-a-thon the past couple of years.
Problem is, their plans to use patents to, say, subvert the GNU
GPL, suddenly isn't looking so hot. They also found themselves
painted nto a corner when it came to patent trolling, since one
peep from their lawyers and IBM nukes 'em back into the Stone
Age (not to mention it was prolly a rude shock to them when
they found out about the OSS patent pool... :evil grin: )

While the Linux Kernel will remain GPLv2 for a long time, all the
other apps and tools surrounding it (like, say, Xorg) are likely to
drift into GPLv3 sooner rather than later.

Oh... and for the really juicy part? Microsoft, as a distributor of
SuSE Linux (yes, legally they are with those voucher thingies that
they charge money for), means that they have zero legal ground
to stand on when they mouth off about patents, copyright, or
any other delusions they may have about IP and what they think
is theirs. ;)

Enjoy the sinking ship you've paid full fare on, my dear MSFT
Astroturfer... :)

Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
Link Flag
Tries evading is the keyword here!
Is this finally Novell's revenge for the past market upset which Microsoft played against Novell back in 1995-1998?

Could this be the straw that broke the camel's back?

In a way... I hope it is. Novell has been stung royally by Microsoft in the past.

This may be thier final revenge.

Microsoft tries a lot... gets a way with a lot of what they try. But with the GPL crowd allow Microsoft to get away with this?

That is the question 'Watson'.

And the answer will be interesting to watch.

Novell will support GPLv3 but Microsoft won't.

(* Hmmmm *)

Going to be an interesting showdown to say the least.

Posted by wbenton (522 comments )
Reply Link Flag
... have "Socialist" Policies (like those of GPL V 2 and GPL V 3... Business Models) done lately for poor countries around the world compared to "The Bill &#38; Melinda Gates Foundation that is dedicated to bringing innovations in health and learning to the global community???
Posted by Commander_Spock (3123 comments )
Link Flag
I'd wondered why Novell would enter an agreement with SCO's backers. And, as you point out, they have been stung before. Could be they were betting on MS having a blind spot, and stepping right into it.
Posted by Phillep_H (497 comments )
Link Flag
Tries is Right
If MicroSoft can hold me to a licence that I didn't ever accept just becase I came into contact with their software, It seems that GPL can do the same to them.
Posted by Renegade Knight (13748 comments )
Link Flag
Easy solution.
There is an OSS project, I can't remember its name right now, that lets people place a bounty on any feature or function to be added to OSS software. The person who writes the code that gets incorporated into OSS gets the cash.

If Microsoft claims that OSS infringes on their patents, but they are not willing to let us know which patents or what code infringes, we should try to invaladate all or most of Microsoft's patents.

We set up a Linux defense website that lists all of Microsoft's patents. People put a bounty on the ones that they want to see disappear, The person who finds the prior art that invalidates Microsoft's claim gets the cash.

With any luck in a very short time Microsoft would loose most of its IP.
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
Reply Link Flag
There can be "Nothing Like The Real Thing"...
... having your Concorde or AirBus 380 (Desktop) "engines" made by (was that Rolls Royce anyone) or your Coca Cola from the (single and not 360 and counting different distributions) Coca Cola Company to be assured of the highest quality of goods and services; but, as they always say -- you get what you pay for.
Posted by Commander_Spock (3123 comments )
Link Flag
"a bounty" System? So, Who was first!...
... since OS2 World.Com have one already well in place. Duh!

Follow the attached link To Boldly Go Where None Has Gone Before!

"OS2 World.Com Bounties"

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.os2world.com/bounties" target="_newWindow">http://www.os2world.com/bounties</a>
Posted by Commander_Spock (3123 comments )
Link Flag
The Socialists "GPL" landed on...
... U.S. and International Laws that declared "Software Patents for Methods of Doing Business?A Second Class Citizen No More"

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.tms.org/pubs/journals/JOM/matters/matters-0012.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.tms.org/pubs/journals/JOM/matters/matters-0012.html</a>

Down with the Socialists (Linus Torvalds et al) folks and don't be brainwashed. Guess why "They All Come To America"; take a close look at the U.S. Constitution; and, there is where your real "intellectual property" rights were enshrined and not in the GPL. Wake up folks!
Posted by Commander_Spock (3123 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Don't be brainwashed!
Free, fair and open markets benefit everyone, monopolies benefit only a few at the expense of everyone.

To often monopolies hide behind the language of the "free market" when in reality they are as detrimental and stifling to the advantages of the free market as any socialist dictatorship could ever be.

Wake up folks!
Posted by Mister C (423 comments )
Link Flag
Just like Bush
The Bushies abide by the consitution except when its terms don't quite fit in with their plans. Pretty eerie how MS is following the same course. All I can say is, don't go quail hunting with Bill Gates...
Posted by bdonohue1 (25 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Does "Living document" ring any bells?
Posted by Phillep_H (497 comments )
Link Flag
Just what part of the
constitution do you believe that the "Bushies" have violated? You don't have to be specific, just the article or the admendment will do.
Posted by suyts (824 comments )
Link Flag
Why even go there...
This isn't about Bush. Why pick a fight about something else when the issue at hand is so important?

Please your politcal agenda out it.

I also don't want to hear any Mac versus PC comments, anti-religous rhetoric, pro-religious rhetoric, etc., etc.

If you want to talk about those issues, go to an article that actually relates to them.

Posted by drfrost (467 comments )
Link Flag
Message to Spock!
You sure seem to spend an awful lot of time on this issue. Are you freeloading on your bosses dime? Or are you just doing what you are paid for. :)
Posted by Mister C (423 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Guess what!
At Work.

Commander_Spock has no one to report to except to agitate for the release (freedom) of the caged up 800lb Gorilla that is OS/2; and, the good thing for you if you wish to know why Spock is spending so much "time on this issue" (if you wish to make more cash that those pushing the Windows and Linux Distros) is that the Gorilla will Go Boldly on the Desktop as an ISO Standards Bearer where no other OS "Has Gone Before". Does the recovery of gold and diamonds, the manufacturing of ethanol (ask the Brazilians)... make sense to you; then, think about financial and economic projections that are required. The Bush Administration has gotten it right(and has got to be on the right track by remembering and adopting that famous Clinton's Administration Campaign Slogan and that is what it all boils down to.

Best regards.
Posted by Commander_Spock (3123 comments )
Link Flag
One task for "Mister C"...
... if you think you (and all the Windows and Linux Distros) are quite up snuff: Show the world how you have managed to return some Economic Rate of Return (ERR) values for an international project; and, these being required for decision making by an international financial institution. In addition, one question for "Mister C" -- Will these "values" be presented in a Spreadsheet that is included in an already approved ISO Office XML Standard so that Spock, Crew and millions of other "Desktop" Users around the world can follow "Mister C's lead?
Posted by Commander_Spock (3123 comments )
Link Flag
Three year olds
Is it just me or does this really seem like the GPLv3.0 is a purile attmept to gotcha Microsoft. I like the work done under GPL but please, "Oh now that you have issued these certificates we are going to change the wording so that you have to support everyone in teh world ha ha haaa!". Just makes me want to yell grow up.
Please, lets try to take over the world with better products, not silly wording that says, if you are reading this then you have no private ideas anymore.
Posted by Kimsh (813 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It is a defensive move against Microsoft FUD.
Microsoft has been making all sorts of FUDish noise about OSS violating Microsoft patents, and threatining to sue anyone who uses OSS in a buisness setting.

If Microsoft were to let us know what software violated its alleged patents, the OSS community could rewrite the software or even better show prior art and get the Microsoft patent thrown out. Unfortunately, Microsoft will not tell anyone what OSS software it claims violates its patents, nor will they tell us which of its patents are in question.

In an attempt to extort money from the OSS community, Microsoft has told OSS users that they will not sue if the user gives Microsoft "Protection money" (Purchase a certificate).

The solution is to,
1. invaladate all of Microsoft's patents.
2. us the GPLv3.0 to invalidate Microsoft's certificates.
3. After the bush administration leaves office, go after Microsoft under the RICO act.
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
Link Flag
"Please, lets try to take over the world with better products, not silly wording that says, if you are reading this then you have no private ideas anymore". Now get this from a CNET News Article on this same page which states: "Samba will move to GPLv3 with its upcoming version 3.2, a release whose previous version number was to have been 3.0.29. "To be clear, all versions of Samba numbered 3.2 and later will be under the GPLv3; all versions of Samba numbered 3.0.x and before remain under the GPLv2," Samba said."

"Because source code under GPLv2 and GPLv3 may not necessarily be freely intermixed, moving an open-source project from one license to another can be complicated."

"The Samba team will continue to provide security fixes to the GPLv2 versions, but new features will be added only to the GPLv3 versions, the team said." So now, does the 800 lb Gorilla that is OS/2 gets freed (through eComStation - ) by disguising intself in the Samba updates:


"eComStation Virtual File System (Samba client support)"

"Samba is a SMB/CIFS protocols file and print sharing server/client set originally made for UNIX world to cooperate with corresponding Windows and OS/2 servers or clients. eComStation has a native implementation of SMB/CIFS server/client set - IBM LAN Manager and IBM Peer. These products have not been recently updated and may have some compatibility issues with modern Windows SMB/CIFS implementations.
Serenity Systems International has reached an agreement with Blueprint Software Works for the inclusion of the 'eComStation Virtual File System' driver which provides support for Samba Client. Currently a GUI to configure it is lacking, but an example of how to mount a Samba resource is available". Thus, "the complicated intellectual property questions software users must reckon with as proprietary and free software worlds collide."!
Posted by Commander_Spock (3123 comments )
Link Flag
A "Talk-Bot"?
This damned thing is one step from being Sky-Net!
Beware, my friends, we're watching the evolution of an AI happen
here, all in the context of a C-Net forum
Posted by GGGlen (491 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Nah! 'This damned thing" is....
... more like ULTRA, ULTRA BX to recapture the lost mind and market share. So, what is your desperation now in that the Linux "Kernel" Committee (just like those on the Redmond Campus) until now have failed to sit down with the "international economists" so that the issues of the inclusion of compelling APIs would have been addressed rather than just forcing users to use what ever is in front of them. The "damned thing" gets even better when it comes to Micro-Computing and Micro-Economics! So, what are you going to do now "GGGlen"; go back to school to take Micro-Economics 400 or what; because, in missing this class you are liable to start cracking up as we get to things - philosophical (on the doctoral levels) on the other hand GPL might afford you the opportunity of a way out. Dare to be different like Spock! Huh!
Posted by Commander_Spock (3123 comments )
Link Flag
Are we all five?
No offense to those of you who are actually five; its all you can manage and I understand that. However I do not see how this issue is so complicated as all the comments would state :P

The way I see it, this is a new licence; it is Version 3 of a Licence, and had rewording. No software Microsoft has supplied (which is doesn't anyway, it gives good-will support to Novell Customers as part of a deal, not really distribution is it?) has been used with the Version 3 Licence. Now... for diplomacy's sake let's say you are OpenOffice, and you use a piece of code under GPLv2 in your codebase (let's skim over the fact, for ease, that OpenOffice is probably fully under GPLv2. Now... you hear about version 3. Within the text you notice that GPLv3 demands you as a user to pay homage to the Goddess Athena by sacrificing a bull once a month. You decide... bugger that, it'd cost so much! So you stop updating that component in OpenOffice and start to continue development of it yourself. Are you legally obliged to carry out the terms of the version 3 licence, without using software developed under the version 3 licence?

You may think that through all you like; and I will be interested in answers to be perfectly honest but I think Microsoft is smart enough to stop these certificates, the use of which I have never understood from the start. I'm not even sure why they count as distribution.

Any straight thought can see this is a sneaky move; there is no use for this beyond viral movement through the sofware world. I understand Intellectual Property; and I understand people like their software commanded by it, whether secretively or under a open licence. It is complicated to handle open-source intellectual property. To be honest; why complicate it and support lawyers' lives with licences. You write software visible to everyone, why do you need a licence? You don't want people to profit from it, understandable. Lawyers do not need more money, don't give them a reason to get it :P This licence however is clearly viral, and it wants only to open up more software with its licence. If the Foundation of whatever believed Open Source was the key to software development; it would focus on software development and the protection of the rights of the developer. Not on making blows, or forcing people to use it, which this part of the licence does. Its not only complicated for Microsoft, its complicated for a lot of people who use the Licence in conjunction with proprietory software and I feel it will have an opposite effect on the system than sitting back and protecting developers would have done.
Posted by Lord Kalthorn (86 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yes, yes, and I don't know
Yes they are 5 y/o, in social development that is. Yes, it isn't only MS that have complexity issues. And, I don't know what the answer to your proposition is. I too suffer from the same delema. It's free but not really open. Well, sort of. If I were to deploy open software at my workplace then can I use it with, and develop my own, in conjunction with proprietary software such as MS. In the work force it is a must. In the past, no one cared, today, compliance with liscensing is a must. Does anyone have a definitive answer?
Posted by suyts (824 comments )
Link Flag
Somebody does have a clue.

Let me state a non-obvious fact to most open source advocates.

People like to sue corporations.

As a result, business is extremely risk adverse, so very few companies are willing to bet their business that a bunch of very clever developers have properly vetted their work against existing works and the study in your house doesn't qualify as a clean room for legal reverse engineering (if such a thing exists after DMCA).

I don't know which is worse, Microsoft's Get of Jail Free certificates or GPL's All Knowledge Belongs to the Human Race and should therefore be free religous mantra.

So, if there wasn't enough forking, and enough licensing models, let's release a version so draconian that no developer who actually needs to make a living from his efforts can do so.

What I do find interesting is that Red Hat can build a multi-million dollar business off of Open Source, but when MS defines a revenue stream, GPL actually rewrites licensing to try and kill it.

Sometimes, I think Open Source is its own worst enemy.
Posted by adlyb1 (123 comments )
Link Flag
Doesn't matter....
It doesn't matter if they are wrong if it's going to cost us a billion dollars to prove it in court.

If they believe FSF is a threat to their dominance don't think for a second that they'll hesitate to take it down.
Posted by drfrost (467 comments )
Reply Link Flag
They can try
The amount of capital that could be raised for a defense would stagger MS.

MS as a dominant force is over, they know it, but are making a desperate last ditch effort to maintain the status quo.

In the midst of their panic the blew the other foot off. The ammo that took off the first foot was Vista.

The majority of the retail copies "sold" are sitting in warehouses and collecting dust on retail shelves.
Posted by qwerty75 (1164 comments )
Link Flag

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.