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Novell's "Mixed Source" Announcement
Wednesday, June 06 2007 @ 01:30 PM EDT

Do you remember when Novell filed the Microsoft deal agreements with the SEC, its annual report said, "No one license is critical to our business?" I took that as a possible hint of their future direction, post GPLv3.

I take Novell's new press release, "Capgemini and Novell Enter Broad Mixed-Source Partnership", as confirmation. Steven Vaughan-Nichols says that corporate types will love this and will eat it all up:

Novell didn't win many friends in the open-source community with its Microsoft partnership. However, that deal, along with Novell's growing partnerships with enterprise software players such as SAP and now Capgemini are bound to win it friends in big business.

Maybe, at first they will. But what will they do when GPLv3 arrives? Where will the updates come from? It's a very foolish vendor that cuts itself off from its suppliers, and it's a very foolish company that buys from such a vendor, in my view, unless you have only a short-term need for Linux.

So this is the dream. Mixed source. How foolish is that? You lose the primary benefit of Linux, namely the flexibility to do pretty much whatever you want with it as a customer. And it's bound to be a very short and bumpy ride. The Xandros deal, to my mind, makes litigation pretty much inevitable.

This whole Novell-Microsoft saga to me was kind of like a hostile takeover of GPL code, or an attempt at it, to neuter it so as to make that code go more proprietary whether it wants to or not. Folks who like the proprietary ways better and didn't much like the GPL, or don't understand its value, thought the license doesn't mean what it says or that they could get cute with it and make oodles and boodles of money by selling code that belongs to other people in ways those authors told them in their license they don't like.

Well, the GPL does mean what it says. And if you steal the Golden Egg and in so doing kill the Golden Goose that laid it, what have you accomplished? The development method that makes the code so much better is the Golden Goose, and the GPL is central to the health of that Goose. I suppose that is why Microsoft wants to get it neutered or eaten for dinner, but why would anyone else help them, particularly someone selling or wanting to buy Linux? You cut off your own future, or make it subject to Microsoft's whims.

CEO's ought to be able to comprehend that this is about respecting others people's IP, to phrase it in a way they are accustomed to. That is what the GPL represents, other people's code and their instructions on what you can do with it, and one thing you are not supposed to do is limit or encumber it with patent deals. That's it. Novell and Xandros and CEOs wishing it to be different than it is need to nevertheless respect the authors' right to decide what one can do with their code, without looking for loopholes or trying to undermine the GPL's effectiveness. It really doesn't matter what your customers want if the authors of the code you are distributing say no. I can't get cute with Microsoft's EULAs without risking litigation, even if I think Cruella de Vil wrote them. It's Microsoft's code, and they can set the terms. My job is to respect their wishes or leave their software alone. Well, it's no different with the GPL. Either respect it, or leave the software alone. That's simple, basic fairness. It's also the law. That includes Microsoft, a company that is telling the world that it is a company that respects IP. Does it? Is it showing respect to the GPL?

More from the press release:

With this partnership, Capgemini's customers gain fully supported mixed-source solutions built on open source and proprietary software that Capgemini will help build, deploy and maintain. The Capgemini Open Source practice will help customers define enterprise open source governance and select the right open source packages and solutions to deploy on top of a flexible, fully supported Novell platform that delivers optimized performance. World-class enterprise solutions for servers and desktops will be delivered, along with data center virtualization and management capabilities. In addition, Novell open source solutions will be supported via Capgemini's open source Support Service Center (OSSPartner) offering. Novell plans to provide Level 3 support to Capgemini.

“Among the global leaders in systems integration, Capgemini continues to lead and innovate in the consulting industry,” said Ron Hovsepian, president and CEO of Novell. “With today's announcement, Capgemini makes a strong commitment to build the best solution for their customers with a flexible combination of open source and proprietary software. We're thrilled to be working with Capgemini to deliver true mixed-source solutions to help customers lower cost, reduce complexity and mitigate risk on their desktops and in their data centers.”

Three Areas of Focus

Capgemini and Novell will work together to build solutions in three areas:

- Integrated development tools and application stacks. Novell will provide SUSE Linux Enterprise plus proprietary systems management solutions and development tools to enable Capgemini to design, develop, deploy and maintain business applications based on mixed-source solutions integrated with Capgemini's middleware and Web application frameworks. As a result, customers will benefit from more rapid and cost-efficient application development, deployment and maintenance.

- End-user solution deployments based on the Linux desktop. To help customers identify key opportunities for Linux desktops and then implement those migrations, Capgemini will enhance its consulting practice with capabilities based on the deployment of Novell's award-winning SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop, which includes an office productivity suite, integrated search engine and complete Microsoft* Windows* interoperability.

- Data center virtualization and management. Capgemini will offer customers solutions based on Novell ZENworks® Orchestrator to help customers optimize their virtualized data centers using ITIL-based tools that automate the deployment, use and management of both physical and virtual IT resources based on business policies.

So, that's the new Novell. It's really sad to watch. But they can stop being a Linux company eventually if that is what they wish to do, and we'll wish them well. It would be better than mongrelizing GPL code and calling it good.

When people don't grasp the GPL, I think it's because they haven't thought carefully enough about the scientific tradition of sharing knowledge. That is all the GPL is saying. It does make a difference to software development to share what you learn, and in my view the results are already obvious. So GPL code will continue to progress more rapidly than any other code, with maybe a bit of a storm as all this gets sorted out, and those that settle for mixed source will have to settle for second best. People choose GNU/Linux systems usually because they've simply had enough of the troubles they've experienced with Microsoft's software and/or EULAs. We are not interested in mixed anything. If CEOs are, it may be they need to think more carefully about the benefits of a clean getaway. Mixed source, to me, means you will undermine two of the clear benefits of Linux: stability and increased security, not to mention flexibility and cost savings. How does that benefit you?

Here's the thing: no matter what, customer demand can't justify violating the authors' license. That isn't how IP law works. You respect the author's wishes as to how you copy code that he has written. Customers demand freedom to download music free too, by the millions, but that doesn't make it legal if the copyright holder doesn't want it to happen. This is no different.

Instead, CEOs should tell Microsoft to simply make interoperability possible by following common standards and providing the specs needed, as the EU Commission has said they should do. That is all that needs to happen here. Linux and FOSS are already easy to interoperate with. You don't need exclusionary patent deals to achieve interoperability, and if that were truly the goal, it's actually a step in the wrong direction. These patent deals benefit Microsoft, because it keeps interoperability under Microsoft's sole control, and I see why they want that, but how does that benefit you?

Update: I found something about Xandros you might find of interest, an interview with Director of Xandros Dr. Frederick H. Berenstein:

LWM: I've also heard wonderful reviews from people who have used the product. I understand that one of its real strong points is how Windows applications or Windows files can still be used within the Xandros distribution. Can you comment a little on that? Was it a conscious decision?

Berenstein: That was a very conscious decision. Right at the beginning, and several years before Xandros became Xandros, the philosophy that I and Will Rosen, my partner at Linux Global Partners, had adopted was this: the position that other Linux companies were taking at the time of "We're going to give you Linux; it's so much more stable; it's so much more secure; you'll learn how to do things our way and you'll love it," was the wrong way to go.

You have to be realistic and realize that no matter what you're doing, you're selling into a Windows world. Every article about PCs always says Microsoft has 92% of the market, 94% of the market - it's always over 90%, and so the reality is that you're selling into a Windows world. Everybody out there is using a box with Windows on it. So when 1.0 came out it was, amazingly, the only distribution in 2001 that had automatic domain authentication against Microsoft servers. With every other distribution, even if they would allow you to recognize it through one technology or another, you had to go in each time; you had to identify yourself; and you had to authenticate yourself. But the Xandros 1.0 product did automatic domain authentication. Similarly, when 1.1 came out last April very quietly in response to our corporate customers, it was the only Linux distribution - and it's possibly the only one today - that had automatic support for Active Directory Servers. And our feeling is that anybody who doesn't offer those things is pretending that they're not selling into a Windows world. We know we're selling into a Windows world.

As far as support for Microsoft Office files, we put that capability in as well as the ability to install Microsoft Office directly on the Xandros desktop because, at least for the foreseeable future, those are the applications that a lot of people use. Those are the applications where they have 10 or 12 years of data files in Word format and in Excel format, and those are the files that they cannot lose and don't have time to change to some other format. They can't afford to filter them through some other application, with the result being that they sort of get the document but maybe the formatting doesn't come out right, or maybe the macros don't work. They have to just be able to put in the Xandros desktop and go back to work. So it was a very conscious decision.

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