On November 23, the OpenSUSE project announced
the first 10.2 release
candidate. In its usual way, LWN posted that announcement; we tend to have
a relatively large number of readers who are interested in software of
great novelty and questionable stability. This time, however, a recent LWN
subscriber took exception
to our having
posted the announcement:
If I had know that LWN is going to support Novell's betrayal of the
FOSS community by helping disseminate SuSE I wouldn't have spent
We got similar comments a few years ago when we continued to publish
OpenLinux security alerts with all the others after SCO started its legal
rampage. Now, as then, we do not
intend to change our editorial policy.
In this context, a couple of other postings are worthy of merit. Shortly
after the Novell/Microsoft deal was announced, Chris Dibona posted
a weblog entry which reads, in its entirety:
I've been giving some thought about the implications of the recent
Microsoft Novell deal, and while I'm not going to go into a long
diatribe about how I do not agree that I need Microsoft permission
via Novell to use Samba or much of any free software, I will say
this to my open source developer friends at Novell:
The Google Engineering Staff and Open Source teams are hiring.
Comments posted on the site and elsewhere suggest that most readers found
this entry to be topical and amusing.
On November 24, Ubuntu self-appointed benevolent dictator for life Mark
Shuttleworth sounded off on the topic as
Novell's decision to go to great lengths to circumvent the patent
framework clearly articulated in the GPL has sent shockwaves
through the community. If you are an OpenSUSE developer who is
concerned about the long term consequences of this pact, you may be
interested in some of the events happening next week as part of the
Ubuntu Open Week.
Unlike Chris's posting, however, Mark's missive was met with quite a bit of
criticism. There was a fundamental difference between the two:
Chris posted on his own weblog, while Mark chose to spam the OpenSUSE
mailing list. Had Mark restricted his comments to his own, well-read
weblog, he would likely have taken less grief.
Both people were, however, trying to do the same thing: attract developers
away from the OpenSUSE project. We have also seen calls for direct
boycotts of the SUSE/OpenSUSE distributions and, as mentioned above, people
wishing that announcements from the OpenSUSE project would no longer be
visible to the rest of the world. There is, it seems, a great deal of
anger against Novell and a wish to marginalize its distributions in
response. The petition posted
by Bruce Perens states it clearly:
In short, now that Novell has chosen not to hang together with the
Free Software community, we've chosen not to do so with you.
There are some problems with taking that approach at this time, however.
Much of the concern in the community is about what will happen in the
future - not what has happened so far. But predictions about the future
are notoriously hard to get right, and things may not turn out the way
people expect. In the mean time, however, we may have caused irreparable
damage to our community.
The SUSE distribution is one of the oldest and highly respected available.
SUSE has, over the course of many years, employed many free software
developers and contributed heavily to the community. OpenSUSE is a free
distribution which is slowly moving toward a more community-oriented model.
There are many developers working on this distribution, and their work is
worth as much now as it was last month. OpenSUSE is still a free-software
distribution - especially if you avoid the proprietary add-ons disk.
As a bonus, OpenSUSE users are not beneficiaries of Novell's non-license,
and, thus, get the full benefit of patent liability that they had before
the deal was signed.
In addition, it is not yet clear what harm, if any, will be caused by
Novell's deal with Microsoft. It could yet turn out as Novell says: more
money for free software, more code, and no downsides. The fact that Novell
chose to pay protection money to see off a potential bully does not
necessarily make things harder for those who have not paid that money; if
anything, Microsoft's attempt to start a new FUD campaign around this deal
has backfired. Microsoft has now said, in public, that Novell did not
acknowledge any patent problems - a statement which will make it harder for
Microsoft to use Novell's protection money as a justification for shaking
down other vendors.
Novell has been accused of trying to divide the Linux community. The truth
of that accusation will (or will not) become clear over time. What is
clear now is that calls to isolate SUSE and attempts to lure away its
developer base are unquestionably divisive. Individual users and
developers will certainly make their own decisions over time, and it could
be that SUSE's run as a major distribution is nearing its end. Or, if
things look bad enough, OpenSUSE might eventually fork away from its
creator. But it is too soon for any of that to happen, and there is little
benefit in trying to hurt a free software project like OpenSUSE. Companies
which feel threatened by free software may well attempt to split up our
community; there is, however, no sense in doing that work for them.
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