Novell's Faustian Pact

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There is something rather curious about software companies operating in the open source world. Although they may be competitors in a particular sector, the open source licence they employ means that they are also partners: they can generally use the code of other companies if they wish.

The stronger those companies become, the more code they produce, and the more code there is available to everyone – including their nominal rivals. This makes the commercial ecosystem that evolves around free software strangely collegiate: everyone has a vested interest in growing the code base, because it is a commons that all can and do draw on.

Against this background, Novell occupies a rather anomalous position. Of all the companies offering GNU/Linux distros, it has chosen to work closely with Microsoft, despite the ties that it bind it to the rest of the broad free software community. Indeed, its business USP might be said to be the fact that it straddles the divide between the two both camps.

Bridging the gap between the free and proprietary worlds on its own isn't necessarily a bad thing; many companies would doubtless welcome help in managing the two together. But many see Novell's actions as offering succour to an avowed enemy of free software (ignore friendly noises emanating from some middle managers of the company, and pay attention to what its boss says and does).

This seems to be directly harmful to the larger commons that Novell depends upon, notably in terms of strengthening Microsoft FUD about alleged (but always unspecified) infringements of its intellectual monopolies by open source code.

Now Novell has gone even further to turn against fellow open-source companies:

Novell today announced the availability of a new subscription and support program designed to aid customers making the transition from their existing third-party Linux distribution to SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.

The SUSE Linux Enterprise Server Subscription with Expanded Support program includes a three-year subscription to SUSE Linux Enterprise Server that provides technical support for a customer's existing Linux deployments for up to two years while they make the transition to SUSE Linux Enterprise.