June 23, 2007

Why Red Hat doesn't need a deal with Microsoft

Author: Joe Barr

The trade press reported a lot of rumors this past week about the chances for a patent protection pact between Red Hat and Microsoft similar to the agreements Microsoft negotiated with Novell, Xandros, and Linspire. Red Hat doesn't appear to be interested in the least. Here's why.

First, Red Hat disagrees with Microsoft's assertion that Linux infringes on Microsoft's intellectual property. Spokesperson Leigh Day pointed to a page outlining Red Hat's position on IP infringement, and said, "We continue to believe that open source and the innovation it represents should not be subject to an unsubstantiated tax that lacks transparency."

Microsoft deals are notorious for being of the non-disclosure, non-transparency nature. We likely would not have any details of the Microsoft/Novell deal were it not for the legal requirements for Novell to include them in company financial reporting. No details were forthcoming in a briefing by Microsoft and Xandros following their recent announcement, either.

What is transparent is the message coming out of one side of Microsoft's mouth which tries to convince customers there is a threat of legal action against them should they dare to use Linux and/or open source software without paying Microsoft for the privilege. The biggest unknowns in the Xandros and Linspire deals is how much money Microsoft paid them to bolster that message. Out of the other side, Microsoft denies it will sue anyone for using open source. Unfortunately, nobody has ever seen both sides of Microsoft's mouth in the same room at the same time.

Secondly, Red Hat offers its customers patent protection through its Open Source Assurance program.
Under the terms of that plan, Red Hat promises to take action to ensure a customer can continue to use its software without interruption. It promises to replace or modify the infringing code if a claim is ever made, or if necessary, to obtain the rights required for customers to continue to run the code. Furthermore, under the plan, Red Hat will pay legal costs, including damages, resulting from a judgment or settlement against a customer.

Microsoft's fuzzy messaging -- there are unspecified instances of patent infringement in Linux and other open source software, but for a price you can avoid the risk of lawsuits we say we'll never file -- is perfectly designed FUD. Red Hat's message, that patent protection isn't necessary for its customers, and that it will guarantee no harm comes to you for using its software, not even interruption of your ability to do so, is clear and concise.

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