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December 21, 2006

Samba developer quits Novell in protest at Microsoft deal

One of the lead developers behind the open source Samba project has resigned from Novell Inc in protest at the company's recent interoperability agreement and patent deal with Microsoft Corp.

By CBR Staff Writer

Jeremy Allison, who joined Novell from Hewlett-Packard Co in 1995, announced his resignation via a statement posted by the Groklaw web site. I have decided to leave Novell, he wrote. 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.

Waltham, Massachusetts-based Novell signed its deal with Microsoft in early November, committing to work on interoperability between Linux Windows, but also entering in to an agreement not to sue each others’ customers for patent infringement.

While the deal might be good for joint customers, it has left many in the open source industry fuming about the fact that it splits Linux users between Novell SUSE Linux customers, who have Microsoft’s protection, and everyone else.

A side agreement for Microsoft not to sue open source developers so long as they are not paid for the work they do has also been heavily criticized as divisive and at odds with the spirit of the GNU General Public License under which Linux shops.

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, said Allison.

Despite Microsoft and Novell claiming customer support for the agreement, the big noise around the deal has come from open source developers unhappy that Novell apparently struck an agreement with Microsoft on their behalf without asking them

In November the development team behind Samba, an open source file and print technology for Unix and Linux that integrates with Windows and as such is integral to Windows/Linux interoperability, urged Novell to reconsider.

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For Novell to make this deal shows a profound disregard for the relationship that they have with the free software community, it wrote in an open letter. We are, in essence, their suppliers, and Novell should know that they have no right to make self serving deals on behalf of others which run contrary to the goals and ideals of the free software community.

That statement from the Samba team put Allison in a difficult position as a Novell employee and Samba lead developer, and it now appears he has tired of waiting for Novell to rethink its actions. 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, he stated.

In his statement, Allison made it clear that he had called on Novell’s management to renege on the Microsoft deal, including a segment of a letter he had written to Novell’s management. Whilst the Microsoft patent agreement is in place there is *nothing* we can do to fix community relations. And I really mean nothing, it warned.

The Free Software Foundation has already announced its intention to bar such an agreement from the forthcoming version 3 of the GPL, which could leave Novell isolated in providing updates for GPL v2.

While that issue is clearly important to Allison, a bigger issue is the fact that the company is attempting to circumvent the GNU GPL license. We can pledge patents all we wish, we can talk to the press and ‘community leaders’, we can do all the right things with reference to all our other interactions, but we will still be known as GPL violators and that’s the end of it, he wrote.

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