Joint or Separate – The Content Matters


UPDATED Nov. 10


I have changed the content on the MS website – follow the links in this posting. Also, check out the comments to this post as there is a good conversation going on.


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In a recent post up on the KDEdevelopers.org site a concern was raised about the fact that there are “joint statements” from Novell/Microsoft up on the Novell site wherease on the MS site we refer to the same doc as coming from Novell exclusively. The items in question are: Open Letter on Novell site, Open Letter on Microsoft site. The blogger, Pipitas, is lead to wonder if the discrepency of these web site titles represents a deeper problem in the Novell/Microsoft relationship. What is more, he wonders if it was cowardice on Microsoft’s part to not say the letter came from us.


First, both the open letter from the execs and the letter to the community were jointly developed by Novell and Microsoft.


Second, I am the one who made the call to put the text up on our website the way it is. The title and preamble were not authored to be disengenous, in fact it was meant to be more respectful of the fact that Novell has significantly closer ties to the FLOSS development community than we do. From any perspective, the leadership shown by both Nat and Miguel to move such large engineering projects forward is impressive. Furthmore, there is text in the letter that is more from Novell’s perspective than Microsoft’s and it seemed odd to me to say that the text was from us even though we worked closely on the content with the Novell team.


Third, what would you like us to do to rectify this from the community perspective? I’m open to all suggestions. I don’t consider this a big deal, but at the same time we are all about customer service. :-) Seriously though, if it is an issue of wanting to see the Microsoft site be updated with more explicit text, I am happy to comply. To some, this may be making a mountain out of a mole hill, but Nat asked me to take a look at the post and see what we could do to respond.   


Let’s keep things in persepctive and focus on what has been accomplished. This deal represents a big step forward in how companies, individuals, and any type of organization can work through many of the big issues that have come about as FLOSS has continued to change the face of the marketplace. Red Hat says that this deal is “unthinkable” – yet I look at it and wonder what is so unthinkable about giving customers decreased risk, increased choice, and that significant resources are being applied to one of the most critical interoperability issues facing them today? Is the idea that there is money involved with Linux surprising to anyone? When Red Hat charges for a support contract, is that “taxing innovation?” Novell and Microsoft have taken a run at a really hard set of problems and have arrived at a starting point – not the destination.


We have a long road ahead of us in this collaborative partnership with Novell. I’m looking forward to learning more from them and seeing what benefits we are going to bring to customers over the long-term.

Comments (14)

  1. Speaking as someone who from the very beginning liked the idea of this deal very much and is eager to be able to defend it among the open source community…

    IMO the very best thing you could do to mollify the community would be to get dear Mr Ballmer to stop FUDing all Novell’s competitors.

    Saying that everyone except Novell has legal "uncertainty" and "issues" is absolutely guaranteed to leave people upset at both Microsoft AND Novell.

    If you seriously want to engage the open source community, the official line needs to be more like "Obviously we have no intention of suing anybody in the open source community including Novell’s competitors. We’re not aware of any violations of our Intellectual Property in any open source code used by Novell or anyone else, and if we found any we’d handle them with care and diplomacy rather than heavy-handed lawsuits which we’d consider an absolutely last resort, if that. The open source community – including other companies as well as hobbyists – has no reason to fear frivolous or anticompetitive patent lawsuits from Microsoft. Novell felt a business need to make that formal and legally binding, and we accommodated them. That’s all."

    Seriously, what reaction did you *think* you were going to get by immediately turning the Novell deal into a reason NOT to buy Red Hat? The key shared value of the entire community is that everyone competes on a level playing field – that’s why open source *works*. You need to be explaining why this *doesn’t* tilt the playing field, rather than implying rather strongly that it does.

    And if in fact you feel it *does* tilt the playing field in favor of Novell… well, perhaps the naysayers are right after all.

  2. Separate Peace says:

    Jason, I am having a really hard time believing anything that you write.  Apparently you work for Microsoft.  Do you really expect anyone to believe that somehow MS is just going to innocently help its primary competitor along.  A competitor of which Ballmer said "Linux is a cancer".  I see two possibilites: 1- Microsoft is actually becoming truly scared of Linux and is looking to profit from it.  2- The large and highly paid team of MS Lawyers have finally figured out a way to destroy Linux, and this move with Novell is just the first step in realizing the Lawyers plan.  I am sorry but looking at the MS track record, I have to assume the latter and that you are just playing a part in the MS "marketing" cover up of what MS is really up to.

  3. jasonmatusow says:

    Wow – two interesting comments to this posting.

    First, just to be clear for the sake of "Separate Peace," I do work for Microsoft, and am closely invovled with this deal and the people at both MS and Novell working on it.

    Second, I think it is very important to remember that product compeititon remains a primary driver for the industry. Red Hat and Novell are competitors, as are many OSS-based products either with other OSS product or traditional commercial products. I don’t see how our approach to this deal has in any way been hiding the ball as we have continually said that we will continue to promote Windows and Novell SUSE Linux. Notice, they are not promoting Red Hat Linux product or Mandrake Linux products.

    Third, our customers have been extremely clear with us about the need for improved Linux/Windows interoperability. Virtualization is the critical touch-point for this, and management follows from that. The open documents piece of this stems from the fact that Novell and Microsoft have been working together in TC-45 at Ecma for about a year and they have a strong stake in OpenOffice.

    Fourth, lots of lawyers, no evil plan (I know, seems weird doesn’t it). In fact, I think it is really important to recognize that there was no litigation, and that was never part of the discussion. IBM is pursuing a software patent case now with Amazon that will have HUGE implications if they win – that is the most significant litigation on the software front under way right now (IMHO). We are looking to find reasonable methods for addressing commercialization of technologies while delivering solutions that have genuine merit.

    I know that many in the community consider everything we do suspect – I can’t help that. I can say that over the past 6 years we have been making steady progress on approching these issues in a holistic, and constructive manner.

    Thanks for the comments – Jason

  4. Your response to my comment kind of misses the point. The comments that are harmful aren’t ones which promote Novell or SUSE. And nobody in the open source community is opposed to competition – in fact I’d go so far as to say that fair competition is one of the strongest values that most of the open source community shares.

    But in the open source community the "fair" part is REALLY REALLY important.

    Most people would not complain if Microsoft representatives were saying "We endorse and recommend SUSE Linux".

    Most people would not complain if Microsoft representatives were saying "We believe that SUSE Linux is the best option for customers looking for Linux solutions" – although they might roll their eyes a bit due to the fact that such a statement was clearly made based on royalty payments rather than technical merit.

    But statements like "We believe that customers looking for Linux solutions should look to SUSE Linux, rather than deal with the uncertainty and issues around other distributions" are very different.

    I’d really HOPE that the difference is obvious. The first couple of statements are made in the context of an open competitive market – it’s implicit that the choice is entirely up to the customer, but you’re providing some extra information (specifically, which product Microsoft recommends) to allow them to make that choice. The last statement is anticompetitive – suggesting (without any basis in fact) that the customer doesn’t actually have a free choice after all, because the legality of Novell’s competitors is open to question, so really the only choice they have is SUSE or… SUSE.

    I know that it’s pretty well ingrained in Microsoft’s corporate culture, especially at the top levels, that the best way to "promote" something is to FUD the competition. "Linux is a cancer" remember? That’s not going to fly in the open source community – it always hurts the FUDder more than the FUDdee.

    Ballmer’s well-publicized comments are really harming the ability of those of us who want to LIKE this deal having any ability to defend Novell’s actions in this case. In my own humble opinion, nothing would help the perception of this deal more than an apology for those comments and a statement that as far as Microsoft knows, there’s no legal uncertainty about any other vendor either.

    Microsoft can promote and endorse and support SUSE to its heart’s content, but the open source community is not the same as the market Microsoft’s been dealing with in the past, and old ways of doing that promotion WILL hurt you. And Novell.

    Unless the naysayers are right and that really is the goal after all…

  5. Ooh a couple more small points.

    First, you may think there’s an inconsistency in my characterization of what "naysayers" think – in my first comment I implied that naysayers think the idea is to tilt the playing field in favor of Novell, in my second I implied they think it’s to *hurt* Novell. That’s not in fact inconsistent: first off there are a variety of naysayers with different points, but secondly I think the most common position I’ve heard is that Microsoft’s intention is really to hurt Linux *as a whole* by dividing and conquering. So hurting Novell’s competitors in one way (FUD) and hurting Novell a different way (by associating them with the people *doing* the FUD) would be consistent with that.

    The second point is I just noticed that your own comment showed a little of the same attitude: "this isn’t bad because, look, your buddy IBM’s doing something far worse!". It’s important to realize that at least *some* of us in the open source community recognize that any person or organization is going to do some things you like and some you don’t. IBM, Microsoft, Sun, Novell, … – all do some things we don’t like and some we do. Just because IBM does some things I like doesn’t make them immune to criticism, and just because Microsoft does some things I really *don’t* like doesn’t prevent me from expressing my approval of the things I do. (There are some people, even some that I otherwise respect, like Groklaw’s PJ, who have a blind spot to the idea that MS might ever do anything good. Not all of us are like that. And besides, catering to that prejudice isn’t helpful 😉 )

    So it comes down to the same point – win me, and the community, over, by talking UP the GOOD bits, not talking down the competition. Even when justified (and IBM’s patent lawsuit is definitely very evil), it doesn’t make you look good.

  6. Louis says:

    Jason, I wonder why you did not address the point that Ballmer is making underhanded threats to users of other brands of Linux.  Yes, competition is good, and there is healthy competition within the free software community without the threat of litigation.  So defend, if you can, the need to use racketeering tactics, and how those tactics fit into your "reasonable methods" line.

  7. Jamie Katz says:

    There is a veiled threat in the crux of your agreement with Novell: Novell is paying MS money for undisclosed reasons relating to their distribution of Free Software, and MS is promising not to sue Novell’s customers. This CLEARLY implies that MS is claiming ownership of some Free Software code or or patented software.

    To claim this is not the case is disingenuous.

    More good reading: http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20061107194320461

  8. jasonmatusow says:

    Thanks all for the comments – let me start with the issue of IBM and their suit. You are reading into my comments that I am holding it up as a "see, they are evil and we are good" kind of arguemnt. That is not the case – and if I was not clear in my writing I apologize. IBM has been the best friend that the commercial OSS community has…period. When they stated that they were going to invest $1B in Linux – that one statement put Linux on the credibility map for enterprise customers. They then backed it up with significant, sustained development investment and community interaction.

    I should make my point more clear about why I brought up the Amazon suit. It is a very big deal that the issue of IP was addressed between us and Linux distributor without litigation being an issue. The IBM case puts a very fine point on how important software patents are to all parties invovled in a given situation. NTP is now making noise about Palm. Microsoft has only recently gone through its first ever proactive patent litigation cycle with Belkin. We have also indemnified customers, partners, and competitors alike in various litigation scenarios because it was the right thing to do for our products.

    Any product that is being brought to market commercially has to deal with IP clearance, that is the system in which we live. It may not be a popular idea, but nonetheless it is true. We pay out 10x what we take in for IP to bring our products to market while respecting others’ IP. The fact that commercial Linux providers have not done this in the past does not mean that it is not an issue to be addressed. The thing that is so positive about the deal with Novell and Microsoft is that solutions were found that do nothing to slow or inhibit, rather it creates a framework for collaboration and mutual gain.  

  9. jasonmatusow says:

    To Jamie an Louis – I am sorry that you see this deal as a veiled threat. It is not, nor was it intended to be. We have stuck our head in the oven more than a few times in a couple of ways. But in this case, I think we are being very clear about what is going on.

    First, the "cancer" comment. Why stop there? Billg used "pacman" and another one was "un-american" from Jimall. Ok – bad comments, not constructive, and years ago! I have lived the process at Microsoft of looking at FLOSS and applying it to our business. I’ll blog, again, about the things we are doing – but actions speak louder than words (according to the old adage).

    In 2001 we got in trouble for saying that we didn’t like the GPL. To this day it is not a license we choose to use. Our Ms-CL is a reciprocal license though based on the Mozilla model and used by us today. We got in trouble for introducing the concept of "Shared Source" – a dubious honor I have of coining the phrase at MS. But to me it was far more honest than many of the other players who have claimed to be "open source companies" but who at best are pursuing hybrid efforts. And now, once again, we are being incredibly straight forward. We believe IP is very important. We think software patents are a good thing (but the system needs some serious reform). We invest more than $6B annually in R&D and would like to recoup that investment. Also, as I mentioned in my comment just above this, we are 10x in the red on IP licensing compared to what we take in.

    I think saying that we value out IP, and find it to be positive when another company does as well, is not disingenuous. I completely reject the idea that talking about IP is "racketeering tactics." I know we won’t agree on this, but it is simply not the case.

    At the end of the day, we are working with Novell to make Linux and Windows work better in the enterprise. We are brining our development skills and sales/marketing resources to bear in a very competitive market. That is good for customers as it drives up quality, features, performance, and applies the type of pressures they like on their vendors to compete for their business.

  10. Nick Mailer says:

    Dear Mr Matusow,

    Thank you for taking the time to respond individually to the comments posted. This is more than many in your position have done (or would have done) and shows that at least this is a blog, and not merely another press-release conduit.

    Anyway, I hope you realise that people’s suspicion of Microsoft and its motives are not blind paranoia, but are founded on a rational extrapolation from a very recent past. To continue the metaphors that have been abroad recently: when a fox claims to have become a vegetarian, one must excuse the chickens for staying well clear of his prowl until there’s substantial and sustained evidence of carrot-munching! To this end, I really must repeat that Mr Ballmer’s comments after the "agreement" were utterly divisive. To continue the analogy, the fox agreed that it would leave alone its favourite hen, so long as it continued to provide eggs, but muttered that all the other chickens had better watch out! Is this the sort of thing over which you expect the community to become effusive?

    In summary, the intentional generalities and ambiguities in this agreement are suspicious, as are the argeement’s time-limitations and its restrictive delineation (to hobbyists who keep their code locked up in their bedrooms, basically!); most importantly,  the lack of any other evidence that Microsoft has changed one iota is a circumstantial clincher. This would all be bad enough; when Mr Ballmer, once again, reveals himself to be a man both very clever and yet utterly unintelligent, and blows the gaff on this deal in his muttered threats, your struggle to paint this deal in benign shades becomes almost impossible.

  11. Louis says:

    Jason,

    I didn’t say that "talking about IP is racketeering tactics."  Here is an excerpt from the Eweek article:

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    The distributors of other versions of Linux cannot assure their customers that Microsoft won’t sue for patent infringement. "If a customer says, ‘Look, do we have liability for the use of your patented work?’ Essentially, If you’re using non-SUSE Linux, then I’d say the answer is yes," Ballmer said.

    "I suspect that [customers] will take that issue up with their distributor," Ballmer said. Or if customers are considering doing a direct download of a non-SUSE Linux version, "they’ll think twice about that," he said.

    *******

    Now that’s not much different than me walking into a local store and saying, "I just made a deal with the store across the street to make sure they are protected.  It sure would be a shame if something bad happened over here, but I’m open to offering you the same protection…for a price, of course."

    That, my good friend, is running a racket.   Mob tactics.  Surely you can see why a statement like that would make people angry.  Hey, MS is clearly moving forward, with the recently improved open standards stuff, but for every little step forward, remarks like that send them three steps back.

  12. orcmid says:

    Thanks for the retitling of the joint statement.  The second paragraph/bullet under Office Open XML now needs a little work.  There are some uses of "we" that probably should be changed to "Novell."  

  13. jasonmatusow says:

    Dennis – thanks for the recommenation to the website. I purposely did not change it as I wanted the text in both places to be the same. The reason the MS website was orginally titled as a letter from Novell is because that is how I read the text after we were done working on it together in the frantic time leading up to the announcement. For now – I’m leaving it alone because making changes to the text itself will probably cause more comment than not.

    Louis – I can appreciate the disquite you feel due to the nature of Steve’s comments. There are so many layers to this, and unfortunately there are many things I can’t share due to confidentiality agreements with other organizations as well as future deals we are working on. I would recommend though that you keep in mind the way in which businesses deal with patents in general. The fact that the software industry is new to patents (only since 1992 was it possible to have a software patent), that there are standard patterns and practices within that context that may seem draconian but are not considered such by those close to the world of patent deal negotiations etc.

    As for the other comments I am seeing on the personal covenant. I am working hard on getting that piece to be updated so that the individual OSS devs out there are able to do what they want to do…write code…free of concerns about patents, and leave the world of patent considerations to the commercial players which is where they really matter to begin with.

    I need to get another blog posting up rather than keep commenting. :-) Thanks all for the discussion.

    Jason

  14. Software patents.  In the Gold Rush days there was this crime unique to the goldfields – claim jumping.  Someone would set up a claim, and someone would take advantage of their work and take it over.

    It seems to be a perfectly valid description of the way too many companies work these days, with patent trolls taking the place of the claim jumpers.

    See my comments in my blog, on a patent applied for by Microsoft that manages to claim-jump in both language textbooks and creating and managing spreadsheet workbooks.

    Ingenious, but I do think the innovation shown by such a process could be better used elsewhere.