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Key developer quits Novell over Microsoft patent pact


Jeremy Allison, a leading Samba developer and well-known open-source speaker, has decided to leave Novell Inc. because of his objections to the Microsoft/Novell patent agreement.

In his public letter of resignation, Allison said, “This has been a very difficult decision, but one I feel I have no choice but to make.”

“As many of you will guess, this is due to the Microsoft/Novell patent agreement, which I believe is a mistake and will be damaging to Novell’s success in the future. But my main issue with this deal is I believe that even if it does not violate the letter of the license it violates the intent of the GPL license the Samba code is released under, which is to treat all recipients of the code equally.”

Allison had been terribly conflicted about the Microsoft/Novell patent deal since its announcement. Those who knew him well were not surprised by his decision to leave Novell.

While Richard M. Stallman, the founder and leader of the Free Software Foundation has said that the Microsoft/Novell doesn’t appear to violate the letter of the GPLv2, many open-source supporters believe, as Allison does, that it violates the GPL’s spirit.

The Samba Project leadership, which includes Allison, denounced the deal only days after it was announced, asking Novell to “undo the patent agreement and acknowledge its obligations as a beneficiary of the Free Software community.”

Stallman also said that the Microsoft/Novell agreement would have been illegal under the proposed GPLv3. In advance of the GPLv3’s approval, which is expected in early 2007, the Samba Project has already declared that it will license Samba, the popular CIFS (Common Internet File System) client and server, under the new license.

In his letter to management Allison said, “Whilst the Microsoft patent agreement is in place there is nothing we can do to fix community relations. And I really mean nothing.”

“We can pledge patents all we wish, we can talk to the press and ‘community leaders’, we can do all the right things [with respect to] all our other interactions, but we will still be known as GPL violators and that’s the end of it.”

As for the argument that Novell hasn’t technically violated the GPLv2, Allison said, “Do you think that if we’d have found what we legally considered a clever way around the Microsoft EULA (End User License Agreement) 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?”

From where Allison sits, he sees the Microsoft patent agreement as having put Novell “outside the [free software] community, and there is no positive aspect to that fact, and no way to make it so. Until the patent provision is revoked, we are pariahs.”

Allison had hoped that Novell would change its way, but “Unfortunately the time I am willing to wait for this agreement to be changed to remedy the GPL violation has passed, and so I must say goodbye.”

“SuSE Linux is technically one of the most advanced Linux distributions, and I am proud to have been a small part of the Team that helped create it. Working at Novell has been a great deal of fun for me, and I will miss many of the great people I have worked with here,” Allison concluded.

Bruce Lowery, Novell’s PR head, said, “We aren’t going to comment on his motivations or his decision.” He then added, “We remain firmly committed to Samba. We still have 2 members of the Samba project on staff as paid, full-time engineers & Novell employees. And Samba is an important, core component of our SLE platform, and we have no plans to change that.”

Before coming to Novell in April 2005, Allison had worked at Hewlett-Packard Co. At both companies, he continued his work with Samba.

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

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