Business leaders have rejected concerns about potential lawsuits surrounding the Suse Linux operating system, despite Microsoft claiming its agreement with Novell is designed to protect corporate users from such threats.
"I do not believe that my company has an undisclosed balance sheet liability," Russ Donnan, chief information officer at business information provider Kroll Factual Data, said in response to questions about the Microsoft deal. Kroll Factual, a subsidiary of global services provider Marsh & McLennan Companies, uses Red Hat Linux servers along with Windows servers in its data centre.
After keeping mum about Microsoft and Novell's tie-up, Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer openly declared last week that he believes the Linux source code infringes upon Microsoft's intellectual property. And companies that use Linux, apart from Novell's Suse distribution, face a latent financial time bomb that he called an "undisclosed balance sheet liability".
The two companies released separate statements earlier this week, with Microsoft softening but still standing by Ballmer's comments even as Novell's chief executive Ron Hovsepian disavowed them.
Donnan, who described himself as "not a huge fan of software patents", said "the threat of such a 'liability' would not in any way influence" whether Kroll would stick with Red Hat or move to Suse or even Windows. "Steve Ballmer is posturing for mind share to enterprise executives, knowing it will have little to no impact on IT executives," he said.
When Linux began gaining adoption by dotcoms in the late 1990s, many mainstream CIOs considered it risky in part because of their unfamiliarity with the open-source GPL (General Public Licence) that governs the operating system's intellectual property, according to Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata.
"It wasn't that any circa-1999 CIO had carefully studied the IP issues surrounding Linux, it was that they didn't know much about them and the whole thing sounded kind of fishy to them," he said.
Those risks appeared to become realised in 2003, when The SCO Group, a former Linux distributor-turned licenser, began suing both Linux vendors such as IBM and Red Hat for infringing upon its copyrights.
But SCO has made little progress in its lawsuits. Meanwhile, many open-source vendors, including HP, Red Hat, Suse and others, quickly responded by offering indemnification against potential lawsuits as part of their standard support packages to customers. Others, such as IBM, have long maintained indemnification was unnecessary.