Out of the wreckage of the floundering Novell dealings, a company has finally emerged as a purchaser. And anyone with a streak of conspiracy in them will not be surprised to find out that, yes, Microsoft was behind the deal. The company that is purchasing Novell is Attachmate. What is Attachmate? I had never heard of them. What do they do? According to their "product listings" on their web site they do Terminal Emulation and Enterprise Fraud Management.
Does it strike anyone as even the slightest bit ironic that a company being puppet-mastered by Microsoft specializes in Enterprise Fraud Management? Seems to me this deal has fraud written all over it. Oh sure, Novell has already published a statement saying that they will retain all of their UNIX patents after the purchase (Read the full statement here). But that leaves behind some 822 other patents owned by Novell that will fall into the hands of Microsoft. I would venture a guess that many of these patents are Linux-based patents that Microsoft (or rather Steve Ballmer) hopes will arm them mightily in their never-ending battle to take down Linux as a whole.
What strikes me as rather odd about this deal is that, in the past, Microsoft has made the claims that it owned the rights to some of the intellectual property in the Linux kernel. If that's the case, then why are they allowing Novell to retain their UNIX patents? Is this what will become an inside job where MS is attempting to slowly put a strangle-hold on Novell so they can wrestle those UNIX patents out of Novell's cold, dying hands?
Here's where I get confused: Linux was based on Minix. Minix was an operating system (Mini UNIX) created by Andrew Tanenbaum designed for education and science. Minix is a UNIX-like operating system, but was built from scratch. There was never any IP infringement on the part of Tanenbaum. When Torvalds decided to create his own operating system, he was just trying to create a "Minix" that would run on x86 hardware (He couldn't afford the far more expensive hardware required to run Minix). And so Linus Torvalds created Linux. Eventually the GNU applications were added to replace the Minix application. The GNU applications were created by Richard Stallman with the goal of creating free, UNIX-like software from the ground up.
Fast-forward to SCO (Everyone boo and hiss here). There have been all too many claims that some code from SCO has made its way into the Linux kernel. No one making those claims would ever point out exactly which code is the SCO code (or "scode" as I like to say - makes it sound hideous and unwanted). Those claims went on year after year and finally (after 10 or so years) nothing had been proved.
So - why exactly is this happening? What exactly does MS have up its sleeve? Do they feel there is some smoking gun in those UNIX patents held by Novell? Or maybe they just want those other 822 patents to see what kind of havoc they can wreak on the Linux operating system. Or...maybe they are finally going to release that ever-rumored MS Linux. Yeah...I doubt that.
Here's what I think. (I know you've been holding your breath, waiting for my take on it...) I believe that Microsoft is, in fact, going to make a grab for those UNIX patents. I believe those, and only those, patents are their one true target in this acquisition. They are going to let SUSE and openSUSE continue on and, when those two products fail to deliver (they assume and/or hope), they will then dive in and claim their prize. Once MS has their hands on those UNIX patents they will comb through the Linux kernel and finally, and absolutely, be able to either lay claim to patent infringement or give up this ghost hunt all together. Since I have no idea what exactly Novell's UNIX patents are, I would only be able to venture a guess. But my guess would be there is nothing damning in those held patents and MS would have done all of this for naught.
The scenario above is long-term. In the short term the Linux community has nothing to worry about. My biggest concern right now is for all of those Linux developers employed by Novell. There are some good people there who deserve to continue on with their hard work. Will Attachmate allow them to continue? Let's hope so. And let's hope this entire charade being played out by Microsoft doesn't, in the end, cause trouble for the Linux operating system and the Linux community.
It's a shame that Microsoft continues on with these shady, unethical business practices. It is my hopes that some day Steve Ballmer will leave Microsoft and the company, as a whole, can finally do an ethical 180 with regards to Linux. But for now...this deal is done and Microsoft is frighteningly close to holding in its hands what it thinks could be a holy grail in their quest to bring down Linux. I don't believe it to be so, but in the world of IP law - everything seems to be a bit cloudy and confusing to those who do not speak fluent "law".
What do you think? What will come of this deal?
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.