Thursday, December 21, 2006

Jeremy Allison, of SAMBA fame, has left Novell. This quote from him concerning the MS/Novell patent pledge sums up in a wonderfully succinct way the reason many people (myself included) are angry about the deal.

"Do you think that if we'd have found what we legally considered a clever way around the Microsoft EULA so we didn't have to pay for Microsoft licenses and had decided to ship, oh let's say, "Exchange Server" under this "legal hack" that Microsoft would be silent about it - or we should act aggr[i]eved when they change the EULA to stop us doing this?"

The GNU GPL is a license, an EULA no different than the one most folks click through without reading on Windows, Office, Acrobat, or any other piece of proprietary software. By accepting the license you agree to it's terms and conditions. Unfortunately, most people are so inured to the the actual text of a EULA after clicking through a bazillion such "accept" boxes in the course of their computing lives that violating the GPL seems no different that pirating Photoshop or Office.
Worse, some consider FOSS no different that Windows shareware without the nag screens. My boss said today that he doesn't know anyone that actually purchased an Office license for home use, and he seemed both amused by and proud of that statement. Proprietary software companies like Microsoft et. al. seem to build a certain amount of piracy into their pricing, assuming home users and small businesses will either buy one copy and use it on multiple desktops, or "borrow" a copy from a geek friend or friendly web site.
The "everybody does it and nobody gets hurt - look how much money Bill Gates is worth!" attitude this creates is, IMHO, the hardest thing to get past when trying to explain FOSS to people for the first time.
I can't remember how many times I've heard something along the lines of "But I didn't pay for (Office, Photoshop, random_program) either" when explaining what "this Linux thing" is to people.
It's something akin to a "Robin Hood" mentality, stealing from the big bad software companies.
With GPL/FOSS the tables are turned. The users must be diligent and prevent companies from stealing their software, not the (traditional) other way around. And companies that contribute to, package, and distribute FOSS must be especially careful not to even commit a perceived violation of the license, lest the user community vote with their digital feet. Even more important to these companies, as illustrated by Mr. Allison, is the developer community - and at least one prominent developer has voted.
Since the claimed focus of the MS/Novell deal is interoperability not patents, I would imagine SAMBA was a big part of that vision. Now that Jeremy Allison has left Novell, where does that leave them? I'm sure they have talented developers remaining in their employ, but do any of them have the same high profile within the SAMBA community?
Time will tell, but should GPLv3 come about with anything close to the currently proposed changes Novell may be forced to fork from the last released GPLv2 source of a lot of software, SAMBA included. This puts them right back where they started prior to the SUSE acquisition - on their own developing and maintaining an entire portfolio of software, trying to play catch-up with much larger development communities, be they free or proprietary. It's a battle they weren't winning then, and won't win in the future.

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