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Open (Source) to Everybody but Microsoft

There's more talk from the Free Software Foundation this week about how it plans to do everything it can to undermine the Microsoft-Novell SuSE Linux agreement. The FSF is worried that letting the deal slip by will represent tacit acknowledgment that Microsoft actually owns some Linux intellectual property and patents (something Steve Ballmer has, uh, mentioned in the past). The Novell deal, after all, included a pretty well-known patent-protection clause.

There's a big problem with what the FSF is doing here. Linux-Windows interoperability is a good thing for partners and users. It strikes us as odd that the very people who constantly clamor for Microsoft to be more open to other vendors and systems and less proprietary are now trying to squash one of Redmond's biggest interoperability initiatives ever. If they're so confident that Linux doesn't infringe on Microsoft's patents, why don't they just let this deal go ahead? Is Red Hat just angry that it missed an opportunity that Novell took (to Red Hat's peril thus far)?

Hey, we realize that Microsoft is probably in this Linux business for a lot of reasons, not many of them related to the pure-hearted goal of helping users. Antitrust issues are likely part of Redmond's agenda (as they always seem to be), and Ballmer might really be thinking that he can best crush Linux from the inside by partnering with a Linux distributor, which is why Novell had better be careful in how it handles this relationship. So, we understand why the FSF folks might approach this deal with some caution.

On the other hand, interoperability with Windows gives Linux -- still kind of a mess of an operating system with its lack of standards -- credibility, and it's good for customers and partners. Isn't that supposed to be the bottom line, after all? Plus, it's not as though Novell is the only Linux distributor out there. The OS will live on even if Novell doesn't -- and we're not anywhere near that stage. The FSF seems to be operating primarily out of fear and dogma here, and those are rarely good foundations for business decisions. It seems as though the open source folks are open to everybody but Microsoft. It sort of lends a bit of irony to the term "open source."

What do you think of the Free Software Foundation's attempts to submarine the Microsoft-Novell deal? Let me know at lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on 03/28/2007 at 1:20 PM


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