Open-source stirs up trouble for Novell

Open-source advocates refuse to be denied access to Novell's Brainshare conference and stimulate more controversy over the company's deal with Microsoft.

Richard Stallman may not have been at Novell's BrainShare conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, but with some help from his friend Bruce Perens he was determined to lodge his objections to Novell's controversial deal with Microsoft.

Novell has become used to lobbying from the open-source community ever sinceits controversial deal with Microsoft was announced in November. The man at the centre of these issues is Stallman, the leader of the Free Software Foundation and the chief author of the General Public License (GPL), on which much open-source software is based.

Stallman was not at BrainShare in person, but open-source veteran Bruce Perens delivered a statement on his behalf. Perens wasn't at BrainShare either, but he delivered the statement from "across the street".

Not surprisingly, Stallman took the opportunity to hit out at Microsoft's strategy, as he sees it, of trying to control the development of software through patents.

Stallman said in his statement: "Using Microsoft's patents gives an advantage to Novell customers only. If they get away with scaring users into paying Novell, they will deny users the most basic freedom, freedom zero: the freedom to run the program."

Stallman also had his own issue to address. The latest version of the GPL, version 3, was first announced over a year ago, but has been mired in controversy. In February, Sun came out in support of the GPL and suggested that it was thinking of linking it with Java and Solaris. But users have protested at the long delays to the GPL with the second draft of v3 out since July.

Stallman offered a reason for the delays in his statement. Pointing to the dangers he sees in the Microsoft/Novell partnership, Stallman said: "If nothing resists such deals, they will spread, and make a mockery of the freedom of free software".

Therefore, he said: "We have decided to update the GNU General Public License not to allow such deals for the future software releases covered by GPL v3". Stallman said he wanted to make it apparent that "anyone making a discriminatory patent pledge in connection with distribution of GPL-covered software will have to extend it to everyone".

Meanwhile Novell's chief executive Ron Hovsepian was upbeat about his company's place in the controversy. "The GPL 3 is a work in progress so it's inappropriate for me to speculate on what would happen there," he told reseller publication CRN. "But given the high sensitivity of the community, it is important to us how the community feels. Novell is very committed to Linux and Linux is a key part of our strategy."

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