Although Microsoft's deal with Novell remains frustratingly under-documented - which in itself is a bad sign - there is increasing unease in the open source community about its consequences. Today, the Samba developers have released an open letter to Novell that makes their misgivings plain.
"Samba Team Asks Novell to Reconsider
The Samba Team disapproves strongly of the actions taken by Novell on November 2nd.
One of the fundamental differences between the proprietary software world and the free software world is that the proprietary software world divides users by forcing them to agree to coercive licensing agreements which restrict their rights to share with each other, whereas the free software world encourages users to unite and share the benefits of the software.
The patent agreement struck between Novell and Microsoft is a divisive agreement. It deals with users and creators of free software differently depending on their "commercial" versus "non-commercial" status, and deals with them differently depending on whether they obtained their free software directly from Novell or from someone else.
The goals of the Free Software community and the GNU GPL allow for no such distinctions."
I think the Samba team are right: this is a divisive agreement. Furthermore, I think this is Microsoft's intent. Nothing could do the company more good -- or so it thinks -- than to see the open source community descend into civil war.
On the face of it, the MS-Novell agreement is not compatible with the GPL. I'm looking forward to either company explaining unambiguously why that's not the case.