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Mandriva says no to Microsoft Linux deal

Large players hold firm while the small guys sign up.

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French Linux vendor Mandriva said no to dealing with Microsoft on open source patents - the third Linux vendor in a week to do so.

In a statement on his company blog, Francois Bancilhon, CEO of Paris-based Mandriva, said, "We don't believe it is necessary for us to get protection from Microsoft to do our job, or to pay protection money to anyone."

Bancilhon acknowledged that several other Linux vendors, including Linspire and Xandros, recently signed intellectual property and collaboration deals with Microsoft to protect them from potential patent claims related to their code. Those agreements followed a highly publicised deal Microsoft reached with Novell and SUSE Linux in November.

Such deals have been more common since Brad Smith, Microsoft's general counsel, and Horacio Gutierrez, the company's vice president of intellectual property and licensing, said last month that open-source software, including Linux, violates 235 Microsoft patents and that the company wants distributors and users of open-source software to start paying royalties for the alleged violations.

Last Saturday, Ubuntu Linux founder Mark Shuttleworth wrote in his personal blog that Ubuntu has no plans to sign a licensing deal with Microsoft, and US Linux market leader Red Hat has reiterated that it's not interested either.

"Novell, Xandros and Linspire have signed well-publicised agreements with Microsoft," Bancilhon wrote in his blog. "Rumors on the web have hinted that we might be next on the list. So we would like to clarify our position. As far as [intellectual property] is concerned, we are, to say the least, not great fans of software patents and of the current patent system, which we consider as counter productive for the industry as a whole. We also believe what we see, and up to now, there has been absolutely no hard evidence from any of the FUD propagators that Linux and open source applications are in breach of any patents. So we think that, as in any democracy, people are innocent unless proven guilty and we can continue working in good faith."

Bruce Perens, an open-source advocate and a founder of the non-profit group Open Source Initiative, said that Mandriva's stand is the right one. "Microsoft has been buying up deals with little fish and companies that aren't quite making it financially," he said of the Linspire, Xandros and Novell agreements. "So it has been easy for [Microsoft], because they have been going after small vendors and getting them [to sign]."

Jonathan Eunice, an analyst at Illuminata, said Microsoft's deals with Xandros and Linspire don't have the same impact as they would if they had been made with a major Linux vendor such as Red Hat. "I think Microsoft is going to second-tier players, and they're cutting deals with them because they are softer targets," Eunice said. More influential Linux vendors, such as Red Hat and Ubuntu, "don't need to take out the insurance policies" with Microsoft. "Plus, they benefit by appealing to the Linux stalwarts - those who feel that any deal with Microsoft is tarrying with the devil.

"This is about Microsoft trying to create the image that there's an intellectual property issue with Linux," Eunice said.

Daniel Kusnetzky, principal analyst at Kusnetzy, said that smart enterprise Linux users "will watch this but not let it control their decisions."

"Microsoft is trying to get people to move with little or no information on what their patent portfolio contains," he said.

Laura DiDio, an analyst at Boston-based Yankee Group Research, disagreed, arguing that the licensing deals are the right thing for some Linux vendors on a case-by-case basis.

"It makes sense for some of them to do this type of thing and indemnify their customers," DiDio said. "It can impact enterprise users if somebody decides to sue for patent infringement ... and they don't have any protection in place. That is always a danger and always a risk, particularly in large enterprises."


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