Samba team slams Novell-Microsoft deal

The Samba Team and the Software Freedom Law Center have weighed in with criticisms of the Microsoft-Novell deal.

Another open-source software group has criticized the collaborative agreement between Microsoft and Novell, accusing Novell of betraying the principles of open source and urging it to reconsider the deal.

The latest criticism comes from the developers of Samba, an open-source program that allows Linux servers to provide file and print services to Windows clients. Its comments are notable because Samba is usually a Novell ally and its software is distributed with Novell's Suse Linux.

Like other criticism from the open-source community, Samba took issue with the deal's intellectual property aspects. The agreement is "divisive" and runs counter to the goals of open source, because it treats the creators and users of software differently depending on their commercial or noncommercial status, it said in a statement.

"For Novell to make this deal shows a profound disregard for the relationship that they have with the Free Software community. We are, in essence, their suppliers, and Novell should know that they have no right to make self-serving deals on behalf of others which run contrary to the goals and ideals of the Free Software community," the Samba team said.

Although Samba did not accuse Novell of violating the GPL under which Suse Linux is distributed, it called on the company to "undo" the patent agreement and acknowledge its obligations to the Free Software community.

Novell could not immediately be reached for comment. It has said that the deal will benefit Suse Linux customers and developers, by protecting them from potential patent litigation.

The Nov. 2 agreement calls for Microsoft and Novell to make their respective operating systems interoperate better. As part of the deal, Microsoft agreed not to assert its patents against customers running Suse Linux. It also agreed not to wield them against "noncommercial" developers who contribute code to Suse Linux.

That part of the deal raised concerns among open-source advocates. By entering an agreement with Novell that it won't sue Suse Linux users, Microsoft is implicitly threatening customers using other Linux distributions, Bruce Perens, a well-known Linux advocate, said last week.

The Samba team seemed to acknowledge that criticism.

"The GPL makes it clear that all distributors of GPL'd software must stand together in the fight against software patents," it said. "With this agreement Novell is attempting to destroy that unified defense, exchanging the long-term interests of the entire Free Software community for a short term advantage for Novell over their competitors."

The Software Freedom Law Center, which provides legal support for open-source developers, has also criticized the deal, in particular Microsoft's pledge not to assert its patents against Suse Linux developers.

"The patent covenant only applies to software that you develop at home and keep for yourself; the promises don't extend to others when you distribute," wrote Bradley M. Kuhn, the law center's chief technology officer, in a letter to open-source software developers last Thursday.

Developers must remain unpaid for their work in order to be covered by the pact, he said. And in any case, the pledge can't be relied upon because Microsoft has the right to alter the terms, he said.

"It's worse than useless, as this empty promise can create a false sense of security," Kuhn wrote. "Microsoft has used this patent pledge to indicate that, in their view, the only good Free Software developer is an isolated, uncompensated, unimportant Free Software developer."

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