Despite news of a patent cross-licensing deal being struck between Microsoft and Xandros earlier this week, Xandros CEO Andreas Typaldos has refused to agree that his company's Linux distribution violates any Microsoft patents. Neither, he claims, did Microsoft ask Xandros to do so as part of the deal.
However, feedback from the Linux community has been on the order of 'you really shouldn't be talking to the devil', claims the company's CEO.
Typaldos told our sister publication, Network World, that at no time did Microsoft reveal to Xandros, which develops Linux desktops, servers and management tools, any of the 235 patents that Microsoft says Linux violates.
Microsoft has yet to detail publicly specific patents violated by Linux and some critics think the statement is a smoke screen in order to undermine the open source community.
“We did not discuss patents [with Microsoft] and we don’t think Linux violates any patents and we were not asked about it,” Typaldos said. “It is a non-issue for us.”
Linux and open-source advocates believe it is a big issue and say the Xandros deal, and another signed by Novell with Microsoft last year, erodes open source licensing provisions especially around intellectual property issues.
Indeed, the Free Software Foundation is rewriting its GNU General Public License (GPL) 3.0 to prohibit such patent deals in the future.
In terms of the forthcoming GPLv3 and its changes, Typaldos said, “We do not enter into agreements if we don't believe we can handle them. We plan to honor whatever agreements we have in GPLv2, and will have under GPLv3 or with whomever we are licensing stuff from. When you create agreements you cannot anticipate the future, but you have to be comfortable you can deal with whatever happens one way or another.”
He added that since GPLv3 is not yet completed (the final version is due June 29) that he can’t really comment on the impact it will have on the Xandros/Microsoft deal.
“[Our deal] is a forward looking thing, we are licensing certain technologies,” said Typaldos.
He said the technologies will help Xandros integrate its Linux-based server and management software with like software from Microsoft.
But he acknowledged that customers have concerns they could be hooked by patent claims and may want some insurance to protect themselves.
“Linux says it does not infringe on patents, Microsoft say otherwise. But customers say let me buy some insurance because if there are any flying sparks I don’t want to be caught in the middle of that.”
Typaldos says that was the genesis of Monday’s deal with Microsoft that covered interoperability and IP licensing and included “covenants” to protect customers using Xandros software from any potential patent-infringement claims from Microsoft.
Microsoft said last month it would seek royalties for patents that it says are being infringed upon by open-source technologies such as Linux. The company, however, said it would prefer to sign patent and cross-licensing deals with open-source distributors rather than seek payments via litigation.
On Wednesday, Microsoft inked a patent deal with LG Electronics. It also has signed patent contracts Novell, Samsung and Fuji Xerox among others.
Novell’s patent cross-licensing deal with Microsoft is nearly identical to the one Xandros signed Monday.
Just like Typaldos, Novell said its agreement was in no way an acknowledgment that Linux infringes upon any Microsoft intellectual property. Novell made that statement in a Nov. 20 open letter to the open source community after being accused of caving into Microsoft’s patent threats.
In the same letter, Novell highlighted that the agreement was focused on developing new technologies and standards in server management, virtualization and document file format compatibility.
Typaldos says Xandros’s motivation in dealing with Microsoft was to license technology beyond basic protocols in order to ensure interoperability between the pair’s server software and Xandros’s BridgeWays management tools and Microsoft’s family of System Center management tools.
Xandros also will develop connectors for better interoperability between Microsoft’s Open XML file formats and the Open Document Format.
“In the last six months, we have been delivering BridgeWays and the focus is to tell customers, who really do not want to be boxed into Windows or into one version of Linux, that they have freedom of choice. And to manage all of that stuff, they don't need to learn a different product every time,” said Typaldos.
“As we move up on the food chain in that area, then interoperability is more of a coupling of the lower levels of the products and the need to know how to open up the hood and fit all these things together.”
Typaldos says the deal with Microsoft ensures that management tools from the two vendors are a perfect fit.
He says that sort of value has to be delivered to customers for Linux to be successful in the market and to quicken the pace of adoption.
“You have to recognise you have a Windows world out there,” he said. “The customer in the market place is dictating what we are doing, not my engineers, not my private views of Microsoft vs. Linux, it is customers that say I have Windows over here, Sun over there, this over here, and I don’t want to worry about Windows or Linux. They want to run their business with single pane of glass management.”