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Prominent Samba developer says why he left Novell

Now that noted Samba developer Jeremy Allison has left Novell, but before he starts work at Google, he’s letting the world know why he feels he had to leave his job over the Microsoft/Novell patent deal.

Allison recently spoke in detail with ace Microsoft blogger Mary Jo Foley, and since then he’s gone on the record with the editors of the Boycott Novell website. Of course, the broad outlines of the reasons why he left Novell were drawn when the Samba Group announced its opposition to the patent partnership. Anyone who knew Allison well also knew he was very unhappy that Novell was “Using patents as competitive tools in the free software world.”

He’s now coloring in this sketch.

“When I first heard that Microsoft was going to take Linux seriously by doing an agreement with Novell I was delighted,” Allison said in an interview on Foley’s blog. “But the more I looked at the details the more unhappy I got with the patent part. I tried to raise the alarm internally but was too timid with my criticisms until it was too late and the deal was signed (I heard about it about 5 days before it was signed). A nagging doubt is that if I had just spoken out louder against the deal I might have been able to change something, but I was too quiet until too late. It’s *hard* to be the one saying the emperor has no clothes, especially whilst listening to others praising the finery of the silk stitching :-).”

According to Allison, the patent agreement was Microsoft’s idea, and was forced on Novell. That said, he finds it difficult to forgive Novell for going along with it.

“I don’t know exactly why Novell signed it. I don’t think Ron Hovsepian is clueless or malevolent,” Allison continued, in the interview on Foley’s blog. “I’ve met him and think he is a really nice guy. My guess is that the negotiations for the useful parts of the agreement (the virtualization part and the federated directory interoperability part) had, as Ron says, been going on for months and just before Novell wanted to seal the deal Microsoft turned up with “there’s just this one more thing we want you to sign…” and in desperation to get the other parts of the deal done they rushed it through.”

Allison then told Foley that “It was carefully prepared by Microsoft legal to try and bypass the GPLv2, and I think to their shame Novell helped them do this. I’ve spoken with Novell executives since I came out internally against the deal and their position on it has been ‘if it doesn’t violate the GPLv2 what is your problem?’ The problem is I do think it violates the intent of the GPLv2 if not the letter, as we explained in the Samba Team statement on this.”

“The intent *matters*,” Allison reportedly continued. “As I tried to explain in my resignation letter, if you’re screwing over some of your major suppliers by following what your lawyers see as the *letter* of a license, not the good faith intent of the license, then you can’t expect those suppliers to say ‘well done, you really tricked us on that one….'”

“The GPLv3 will fix any possible hole in the letter of the license (and Samba will hopefully move to it once the copyright contributors are happy with it).”

The Samba leadership has already announced its intention to switch the popular Windows/Linux file/print server software to the GPLv3 in 2007.

“But in the meantime I don’t want to give my efforts to a company that is willing to try and trick their way out of their license obligations on my software. When I talked to the Novell executives we just had to agree to disagree,” Allison reportedly said.

Looking ahead to his new job at Google, Allison told the Boycott Novell editors, that “I’m not going to comment much on why Google is interested in Samba, I’m hoping that will become apparent over time. Samba is becoming a more complete solution for integrating Windows and UNIX/Linux and we’re filling out our implementations of CIFS (Common Internet File System) and AD (Active Directory) and (soon) SMB2 (Server Message Block).”

A version of this story first appeared in Linux-Watch.