The patent cold war has begun
It is increasingly becoming clear what the deal between Microsoft and Novell really means for GNU/Linux. Hear it from Microsoft itself: Ballmer: Linux users owe Microsoft. Can you hear the sound of those rattles? Microsoft is hitting the patent threat hard this time, and no matter if it is just empty words or a true promise, this could hurt GNU/Linux much more than the whole Novell deal was supposed to help. If you ever thought SCO case was an annoyance to the legal reputation of GNU/Linux, what do you say to having the biggest software corporation on Earth spell out threats of patent litigation against anyone who doesn't sign a deal with them?
As much as enterprises may be encouraged to consider switching to GNU/Linux due to the supposed recognition that this deal gave to it, they may be discouraged by the litigation fears that are now being so tightly tied to GNU/Linux by Microsoft itself. Sure, enterprises can choose Novell SuSE and be safe, but for how long? And what exactly will Novell turn into in a few years time? What exactly will Microsoft do to it?
Even Novell ought to have had some surprises in just days after making the deal with Microsoft, when Ballmer publically said that the deal was not exclusive and offered other GNU/Linux vendors the same thing. The protection racket, anyone? Of course, Microsoft is one of those companies which can get away with that.
Some people believe that the deal may be a sign of change of heart at Microsoft when it comes to the whole idea of Free Software and "Open Source". Well, for one, why would it then be so important for Microsoft to emphasize how GNU/Linux infringes on their patents? It doesn't exactly look like they are positioning themselves as the new friends in our community. It smells more like an infiltration, and a potentially painful one.
If you still somehow believe that Microsoft's stance on FOSS has softened, that they no longer press the FUD, then maybe you should read what Bill Gates has to say about it today:
"Well, let's distinguish: let's talk about free software. Free software has always been an important part of the software world, just like commercial software has been."
Anything familiar? Just as in the "good old days", he is still making a deliberate distinction between Free Software and commercial software making a direct implication that Free Software cannot be commercial and hence propagating the old lie perpetrated so many times against FOSS. The question was about "open source", so rest assured he wasn't talking about distinctively non-profit free software here. He *is* talking about Free Software under licenses such as GNU GPL.
Besides, does there need to be any more proof than this:
Now (Free Software Foundation head Richard) Stallman, he is truly pure; unlike many people who sort of try to act that way, he's pure. In V3 (version three of the General Public License) he's going to really make it clear that there's the world of "can never be (commercialized)"--nobody can ever make money on it, you know, build Web services or things. At least he's pure.
Same old deliberate lies! Richard Stallman, Free Software Foundation and many of its supporters have and continue to repeat endlessly: Free as in Freedom, not price!. Corporations like RedHat are making loads of money on *Free Software* licensed under Stallman's GPL, and yet Bill Gates comes around and say that Stallman's goal is to eradicate every possibility of making money with Free Software? If this was truly his goal, why was the current GPL written as it is today? If you have even the basic understanding of Free Software you know just how shamefully untrue Gates' statement here is. It is so shameful, in fact, that Microsoft's own employees who consider themselves to be some sort of IT experts should denounce their association with Bill Gates in every way if they have any self respect left. It is a shame on the profession and a shame on the software business world.
No, Microsoft has not changed their heart. They may show various faces in various times as it suits them and their agenda, but their actions and still even words show what they truly remain, the enemy of Free Software, the enemy of GNU/Linux and the enemy of digital rights and freedoms. And with this enemy, Novell signed a deal.
So be it, but don't forget that FSF holds copyright to some of the most vital parts of the GNU/Linux system, parts which will so likely be switched to GPLv3. And as they do, they may essentially invalidate the deal. There is something for GPLv3 critiques to ponder. Microsoft has patents, money and the power to corrupt. What do we have? We have the GPL.