Recently, I read some interesting commentary on the Microsoft-Novell pact in an Linux Insider article entitled GPLv3 Could Be Risky Business which concluded with the following statement.
“Regardless of the GPLv3 outcome, it should be noted that Microsoft and Novell are two large companies with plenty of attorneys — if they want to do business together over Linux and Microsoft products, it’s not hard to imagine that they’ll be able to find a way.”
This statement didn’t seem to ring true for me – it seemed to be wrong way to view what the Free Software Foundation is doing with GPL V3. Here’s why.
Nobody wants to ‘stop’ Microsoft and Novell, or any other Open Source distributor, from doing business together. In fact, it would be desirable to see Microsoft produce more Open Source software – as they have with the projects such as the Web Service Software Factory – and collaborate with other players in the Open Source software field.
Rather the point of GPL V3 is to defend the rights of Free Software developers to produce software without the fear of litigation hanging over their head – by extending the patent covenant to all of the Free Software community – not just Novell customers. This fear of potential litigation has been raised more strongly than ever by recent Microsoft comments in Fortune magazine. However, it appears that by not having an expiry date on the Linux coupons that Microsoft is distributing, Microsoft itself will become a GPL V3 Linux distributor, and finally their patent covenant will extend to every corner of the Free Software communities. This will be genuinely good for software development, for the Open Source community and most of all for Microsoft – who has a lot to offer in the field of Open Source software.
They have a lot of bright developers and engineers and it is in everyone’s interests to see these people contribute greatly to the I.T. sector over the coming years. But it is important that the playing field is level and that instead of ‘innovative lock-ins’ and restrictive file formats we see a truly great Microsoft emerge that is founded on on true innovation, engineering excellence and co-operation. The first step on this path is to build a true bridge to the Free Software community and not seemingly pretend that this intellectual property bridge is any more than an attempt to scare companies into paying a high premium for ‘Microsoft-approved’ Linux of Novell – using patents instead of file formats as the lock-in.
In summary, it is important to note that the purpose of the latest version of the GNU Public Licence is not on preventing co-operation between Microsoft and Novell with their pact, rather it is to defend everyone else who is threatened by the it. To this end, GPL V3 looks like it will do it’s job very well – winning over many of those who doubted its necessity early on in its GPL 3 draft process. And the Software Freedom Law Centre and it’s ‘plenty of attorneys’ has another feather in its cap as it shows an interesting hand in the poker game of software licensing. And if this hand is not enough for now, ‘it’s not hard to imagine that they’ll be able to find a way’ to continue to keep software development a free and democratic process. If you weren’t sure why you needed GPL V3 yesterday, you probably know why today.