The birth of a new conglomerate
The wikipedia quite simply defines what is a conglomerate.
A conglomerate is a large company that consists of divisions of often seemingly unrelated businesses.
While there are often negative connotations being associated with a conglomerate, the new one which we are witnessing today is different in so many ways. This is a conglomerate you, your project or your business can be a part of to the full extent. All you have to do is observe and play by the rules. This is a conglomerate that we today call: The Community. That is its name.
It has grown in power for years now to a point where it is being taken seriously by the biggest corporations in the world forced to deal with it whether they like it or not. Either that or lose on the tremendous value that this conglomerate has produced. And it is becoming increasingly difficult not to live without this value because its products are practically everywhere.
The Community Incooperated
Thousands of software developers, hundreds of thousands of software users, hundreds of businesses and organizations are all a part of this conglomerate. They are bound by a common contract developed by a corporation that started it all, the Free Software Foundation. The contract is a copyright license we know as the GNU General Public License (GPL). The reasons why all of these people and organizations are involved with the works licensed under this license vary, but the contract remains the same. Everyone who exerts value from the software licensed under the GPL has to play by its rules: contribute modifications back (if you distribute them), do not add further restrictions, share alike.
Because it grants certain rights that indulge the desire of people to cooperate, this community conglomerate builds its value in cooperation increasingly compelling others to admit the products of this cooperation into their ecosystems. This way, The Community has developed an operating system called GNU/Linux and many other quality software products such as OpenOffice.org and Mozilla Firefox and then through an increasing gravitation towards the adoption of these products forced the biggest software corporation on Earth, Microsoft, to take notice and take action - and then face the community conglomerate head on.
Microsoft forced to deal with The Community
But how could it even happen that the biggest corporation on Earth is forced to deal with The Community rather than another corporation instead of just relegate this community as a bunch of hackers?
The answer lies in the protective feature of the GNU GPL. Not only does the GPL grant cooperation indulging freedoms, but it radically protects these rights in a viral way. If you were granted freedom, then the same freedom must absolutely be granted to the next person to which you distribute the software. These are the rules that equate everyone. No one person, not one company and no one organization can subjugate the rights of another. If you have the freedom I must have it too.
This is the reason why Microsoft's old "embrace, extend and extinguish" strategy didn't and wont work on Free Software as the product that The Community conglomerate produced. This is exactly why Microsoft tries to get around us, failing only to end up facing us head on and possibly retreating.
Microsoft tries to infiltrate The Community
This is what is happening right now. Microsoft's toughest cookie is the shield of the GPL. They have put it under their scrutiny, trying to find a way through or around it in order to bust in, and kill the competition that this community conglomerate presents to them. They have made the deal with Novell in order to infiltrate The Community and mess it up from the inside. But ordinary FUD they have been spreading all the time in their fight and frustration against the community was not enough this time. They had to sign a patent covenant with Novell in order to make the divisive force feel more real. And the desired effect of the patent covenant was to make a distinction between Novell SuSE GNU/Linux as a protected platform safe from litigation and the rest of GNU/Linux vendors within The Community as those that are not safe from litigation.
"Well done Microsoft. You think you have infiltrated us, but you are just about to be swallowed and spit out."
And Microsoft will fail
It seems as if Microsoft is still underestimating the protective shield that the GPL presents on behalf of The Community which it maintains. The GPLv3 needs only a slight modification in its patent policy to make Microsoft *want* to break the deal and get out, ending their infiltration. Why would FSF make this modification? Because it was planned all along, even before the deal came to be. Because the whole point of GPL is to grant freedoms and preserve total equality between those who exercise them. There can be no distinction between safe or unsafe (of litigation) vendors or users. There can be no patent covenant that covers only a part of the community conglomerate bound by the GPL. If there is a patent covenant, then it must cover everyone. And this is something Microsoft doesn't want. This is why it will want to end its infiltration.
And indeed, it appears as if the realization of the situation made even Novell buckle, leading to this exchange of open letters. What is interesting is not only the fact that Novell and Microsoft actually disagree about what the patent covenant between them means, but that it is not targeting business users as it is usually the case. It targets us, the Free Software community. Why? Why is it so important for them to justify themselves to us? Could it be because of the protective shield of the GPL with which they're coming very very close to colliding?
I think that indeed, that is the case. Novell depends on the product that the community created and this product is not something only Novell has the right to. The whole community has the right to it. This is the law because it is in the GPL as a copyright law enforced license. It is the law of The Community of users of the GPLed software. This is how the GPL gives us the ordinary people the power to be considered, to be taken seriously, to be heard. GPL forces them to pay attention or leave our product behind.
Otherwise, there would be no need for Novell to justify their deal with Microsoft in front of the community which largely despises the way Microsoft treats them.
And this is why I am calling this community a "conglomerate". It is because that word invokes a sense of power that cannot be circumvented. We, as The Community have essentially become this power. We are now on the same table with large corporations simply because they cannot live without the product that we have cooperatively produced (GNU/Linux and other Free Software).
This is why, for the first time in history, Microsoft stands a great chance of loosing their battle against a competitor they want to swallow.
GPL allowed us to take charge, create our own free market and win. If that isn't the greatest testament to the genius of Richard Stallman (the principal author of the GPL), nothing is. You may have your qualms with him. Heck even I have some, but that guy will certainly be remembered as one of the most revolutionary figures in the human history.