Microsoft Rejects Latest Open Source License

The Microsoft-Novell Linux alliance may have gotten shakier, with Microsoft saying it doesn't recognize the latest version of the standard license for open source software (OSS).

In an announcement on its Web site yesterday, Microsoft stated, in blunt fashion, that it rejects the third iteration of the General Public License (GPLv3) governing OSS. The statement begins: "Microsoft is not a party to the GPLv3 license and none of its actions are to be misinterpreted as accepting status as a contracting party of GPLv3 or assuming any legal obligations under such license."

GPLv3 has generated controversy for its stipulation that recent deals Microsoft has struck with a number of Linux developers and distributors like Linspire, Novell and Xandros will be illegal in the future.

Despite the statement, Microsoft claimed that its stance will not affect its relationship with Novell, which was its partner in the first patent-infringement protection deal. Under the terms of that agreement, Microsoft said it would not hold Novell or any users of its Linux products liable for what Microsoft claimed in May are 235 OSS violations of its patents.

"We do not believe that Microsoft needs a license under GPL to carry out any aspect of its collaboration with Novell, including its distribution of support certificates, even if Novell chooses to distribute GPLv3 code in the future," the statement said.

Microsoft went further and said that any code licensed under GPLv3, including that from Novell's version of Linux, known as SuSE Linux, will not be eligible for support.

Novell, however, is fully behind GPLv3. In a Friday blog entry from a public relations executive, Novell told users not to worry.

"Given the terms of GPLv3, we re-affirm Novell's ability to include technologies licensed under GPLv2 or GPLv3 in SuSE Linux Enterprise," the entry stated.

It also appeared to contradict Microsoft's assertion that users of software licensed under GPLv3 won't get support.

"For those customers who will obtain their Linux via a certificate from Microsoft, Novell will provide them with a regular SuSE Linux Enterprise Server subscription, regardless of the terms of the certificate provided by Microsoft."

Novell also tried to reassure its customers that they need not fear any Microsoft lawsuits for alleged patent infringement.

"For Novell customers, all Novell products are covered by the Microsoft covenant not to sue, independent of their channel of distribution, including both server and desktop and whether they are licensed under GPLv2 or GPLv3," the statement declared.

Both Microsoft and Novell agreed to keep moving forward with their partnership in the areas of interoperability. But frequent Microsoft critic Bob Sutor, IBM vice-president of open source and standards, was skeptical of Microsoft's motives for the GPLv3 announcement. He wrote the following in his blog on Friday:

"I thought the line, 'As always, Microsoft remains committed to working with the open source software community to help improve interoperability for customers working in mixed source environments and deliver IP assurance,' was pretty funny. In what sense of 'always' do they mean? Was this true when free and open source was a 'cancer' done by 'communists,' according to them?"

GPLv3 was released by the Free Software Foundation on June 29.

About the Author

Keith Ward is editor of Virtualization Review magazine. You can contact Keith at [email protected].