Linspire Linux deal 'worse than Novell'

Linspire Linux deal 'worse than Novell'

Summary: Microsoft's patent agreement with the Linux distributor shuts out GPLv3 and makes Linspire unsuitable for business, claims legal expert

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TOPICS: Tech Industry
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The terms of Linux distributor Linspire's agreement with Microsoft betrays a deal "worse" than that between Microsoft and Novell, according to legal expert Pamela Jones.

Jones, author of the Groklaw blog, wrote on Sunday that the Linspire deal requires users to give up all the freedoms they would expect under the General Public License (GPL), the licence governing the use and distribution of much open-source software.

Announced in June, Microsoft's deal with Linspire was the latest in a series of arrangements made between Redmond and Linux distributors such as Novell and Xandros. Other distributors such as Canonical, Mandriva and Red Hat have spurned Microsoft's advances. The deals involve Microsoft pledging not to sue users of the Linux distributions over alleged — and unspecified — patent "violations" contained in the software.

Describing Linspire's arrangement with Microsoft as "the worst deal I've seen yet in this category" and "worse than Novell", Jones wrote that the agreement, which Microsoft refers to as a covenant, was antithetical to the point of open-source software. "You can't share the software with others, pass it on with the patent promise, modify your own copy, or even use it for an 'unauthorised' purpose, whatever that means in a software context," she wrote. "You must pay Linspire for the software, but then the 'covenant' says to use Linux, you must also pay Microsoft. That payment doesn't cover upgrades. Linspire said it was absorbing the initial fees, but I don't know about upgrades. New functionality means you lose your coverage or presumably must pay again."

Software covered by GPL version 3, the controversial recent update to the open-source licence, is also not protected in the Microsoft-Linspire deal, and neither is Freespire, the free version of Linspire's version of Linux. The terms of GPLv3 itself forbid any exclusive patent protection deals between firms using the licence and commercial software developers such as Microsoft.

Jones also pointed out that business users would be unable to purchase patent protection — a so-called patent SKU — for "anything running on a server", or for any "business applications designed, marketed and used to meet the data-processing requirements of particular business functions, such as but not limited to accounting, payroll, human resources, project management, personnel performance management, sales management, financial forecasting, financial reporting, customer relationship management and supply chain management".

"When you read that Linspire is thinking of offering various items via [Linspire's free online software warehouse] CNR to Freespire users, read the small print," wrote Jones. "You are not covered, as I read the terms. And if it were me, I'd insist on an explicit list of precisely what is and isn't covered, by application name, before I signed up for this."

Topic: Tech Industry

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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3 comments
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  • Foul!

    Correct me if I'm wrong but the suggested 'conditions' are not permissable under GPL, therefore Linspire cannot proceed with their distribution.

    Or have M$ found a devious way to seriously undermine and destroy GPL, unltimately throught the courts, and/or subsume GPL software as they have done so much of in the past with other software.

    Clearly M$ ARE on the offensive with open source in their sights.

    Now is the time to start taking this danger VERY seriously. This is big and very nasty business in action. The objective seems absolutely clear. Destroy GPL and 'steal' all the technology. An activity with plenty of precedence.
    The Former Moley
  • to use Linux, you must also pay Microsoft.

    M$ has done many "shady" deals in the past , but I think this one has a real smell. Why would you want to pay M$ for something they don't own, have no control over, and is free? Let M$ sue everyone running Linux and then open their code for inspection to prove any violations.This will happen when donkeys fly.
    ator1940
  • Follow the Money

    I think we need to know who owns Linspire, and who has influence over the finances of Linspire. In other words follow the money. Does this trail lead to Microsoft? I would have thought that it is now clear, even to the most apathetic, that Microsoft have an agenda and are vigorously persuing that agenda.

    Addtionally, since the upcoming version of Linspire is based on Ubuntu, and Ubuntu is collaborating with CNR, I think Canonical should challenge this deal vigorously since it is apparently a clear and unambiguous breach of the GPL and it is Ubuntu's Software that is being most directly abused by this breach.

    The Open Source Community and the supporters of Open Source have now been given a clear wake up call, beyond all doubt. Wake up before it is too late!
    The Former Moley