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Should we really reject code from Novell?

In a recent article on LinuxJournal, its Editor in Chief Nicholas Petreley wrote that we should be abandoning all code related to Novell and SuSE because it may become tainted with Microsoft's "Intellectual Property". He quoted a note with which he signed Bruce Perens' Open Letter where he says the following:

Nicholas Petreley wrote:

I urge everyone to purge their systems of anything related to Novell/SUSE. I also urge all FOSS developers to refuse to adopt anything contributed by Novell (such as the VBA compatibility code in Now that Novell has a virtual license to adopt Microsoft intellectual property without risk to its customers, it is a reasonable fear to assume that everything Novell produces or contributes is potentially tainted with Microsoft intellectual property. This perpetuates a substantial risk to all but Novell customers for the next five years, and may pose a substantial risk to all current FOSS adoption once this current agreement expires. Novell must either reverse its agreement or provide some other acceptable remedy before its products and/or contributions will be anything less than suspect.

First of all, despite the tireless propagation of the misleading term "Intellectual Property", it is anything but real. There is no such thing as a valid intellectual property and the three systems that are somehow linked together under this term aren't all that similar. Copyright law, patent law and trademark laws are three different things that cannot validly together be called "intellectual property". Such a term only contributes to the propagation of a lie that serves not the Free Software community, but the likes of Microsoft where MS can claim that they actually "own" something that they don't. If we are talking about patents let's talk about patents, not some fictional "intellectual property". Patents are a monopoly on an idea. Software patent is therefore a monopoly on an idea that can be used in software development. What makes such patents problematic can probably be summed up in two points:

  • They're too often too vague or too trivial. It is extremely hard to really make sure that there was no "prior art", that absolutely no one had a particular coding idea before. In all their dishonesty, Microsoft therefore ends up exploiting this hole and patenting the most trivial of software ideas, as do other companies including the famous "patent trolls" that are let to thrive in the corrupt US software patent mess.
  • It is practically impossible to make sure that a code you are writing doesn't infringe on some patents because there is basically no reliable way to check this. Every new line of code you write could potentially be infringing.

Software patents are utter nonsense. We should work towards invalidating the whole software patenting system rather than doing the impossible job of auditing our code to "make sure" of what we can never be sure about, that it doesn't infringe someone's patents. What good will it do to us if we now start mass abandoning the good GPL covered code that Novell and others contributed to the community? What makes people think that if we now reject this code we will somehow be sure that we still wont be left with code that infringes even on Microsoft's patents?

Petreley is calling to abandon Novell's code in order to prevent tainting the pool of Free Software with Microsoft's patents, but what he may be forgetting is that even without Novell's code, the Free Software pool may already be tainted anyway. At the very least we can never be sure that it isn't. That said, it doesn't look like a good thing for Free Software and GNU/Linux to abandon certain applications that contribute to the Free Software desktop experience based on such a hot air as the possibility of tainting what may already be tainted anyway.

Our battle is not about escaping software patents infringement. It is about invalidating software patenting as a whole. The former is basically impossible and hence pretty worthless. If you really want to fight the MS-Novell deal in the area of their patent covenant then support GPLv3 and urge as many developers as possible to switch to it. Then, the covenant that MS made with Novell will cover and protect more and more of the Free Software code upon which Microsoft wont be able to sue (because, per the GPLv3, they have promised not to sue anyone who touches the code that supposedly infringes their patents).

I certainly wont be rushing in removing Mono applications from my installation just because of this.

Thank you
Danijel Orsolic


No Abandoning Code

OpenSuSE is a seperate entity from SLED and Novell if I am not mistaken. 99.9% of their code is the same as anyone else's. Abandoning there code is asinine. Besides, GPL'd code is GPL'd code no matter what you put on top of it. Look at the code more closely? OK, but I'll bet the SuSE developers will do that anyway.

let some time to the time


Sorry, I could not resist, it's an old french saying.
I really am concerned by this question (and besides I'm an OpenSuse user) but I would like to remind everybody that this is a mere overreaction. Forgive me this quite wild accusation but to me it's pretty much on the level of the author's suggestion: Nicholas Petrely is famous for supporting and writing books on.... Fedora. Hmmmmm. Let's see what it could entail...

More seriously. Novell messed that up big time but they are far from being SCO or traitors. Besides, if you look at the latest IRC session they had, it seems that they are now asking MS to rewrite the part of their agreement about the developers, GPL and patents. And they even said that GPL v3 would be used for Novell, that they had no intention to fork... etc.

So please folks, I understand that many of us could get mad by these news, but let's not overreact. Do you know how many patents IBM files everyday on stuff that could be more or less related to Linux? Think about it again. What Sun exactly did in regard of the so-called IP of Linux and Unix? I could go on like that for hours. The morale of the story is, imho: let's stay aware, MS is not our friend, besides that, there is a community, inside this community are people working for major corporations embracing FOSS for their own bottomline and not for our blue eyes, so let's get realistic. We take what we can from them, they do the same to us. That's called an eco-system, and it is only up to us to live up to our own values.


Charles, maybe it would be

Charles, maybe it would be good if you'd written up about the general situation with Novell as you see it considering that you have some insider info as it seems. We can publish it right here on and through news sites. I think a lot of people could use hearing what you have to say.

As mentioned before, I am not so keen on Novell as I am on Microsoft. Novell made a mistake and the community is urging them to reverse while watching them closely, but I don't think we need to go to extremes in bashing them out of the community just yet. There's still hope.



sure, leave me some time and I'll write one.


No problem, thanks.

No problem, thanks.

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