Greasing the free software skids under Novell

And what Microsoft giveth, Microsoft taketh away...

Although Red Hat rolled out its big budget distro Red Hat Linux 7.0 this week, a far more intriguing release has appeared this week with nary a mention from the corporate trade press.

It's come via the flamboyant and ever-entertaining Jeff Merkey, formerly chief scientist at Novell where he took the credit for designing the Netware 4.11 kernel, Netware SMP, Wolf Mountain clustering and other landmarks. Merkey and coding pardner Darren Major walked out of Novell in 1997, and were soon hit by a lawsuit that prevented them using Novell source code authored during their employment. Nonetheless, Merkey's Timpanogas Research Group has continued to fight its way out of the legal cocoon by creating GPL equivalents of official Red Box software.

TRG offers a GPL file system, the Open Source Novell File System; MANOS, aka "Open Source NetWare", a clustered NetWare file system M-Squared (M2FS), and Open Source NDS. At Networld Interop this week TRG was showing off its Ute-Linux and Ute-Cluster-Linux distros that will ship in the next three weeks.

It's particularly intriguing as Merkey's merry men have received close and helpful attention from Microsoft in their endeavours, although this relationship ran into the rocks earlier this month. And Merkey is one of very few folks intimately acquainted with the source code to Linux and NetWare and Windows 2000.

But we wondered, what possessed Merkey to spin what sounds like a Novell Groundhog Day?

Well, he tells us, there are many things Linux can do wonderfully well, but there are others that Novell can still do better.

"The only bad thing about Linux is that it's a general purpose OS. The nice thing is that it's got a really good following of guys who are open to change, and it's evolving very rapidly." So the aim is to take the best of both, and put them out under GPL.

So TRG's coming at it from both ends. There's an open source Netware that has a Linux and NT execution environment - the latter use Microsoft's PE execution format and DLL loaders - and Linux distros with a NetWare HA clustered file system environment And NDS: ah, yes ... NDS.

TRG has delayed the release of an open source NDS because of the instant destruction this would wreak on his former employer, where he still has many close friends.

"NDS is a tactical nuclear weapon - if we put it out Microsoft and other competitors will use it like a sickle, and reap and harvest the Novell installed base." he says. "It's not beneficial to customers in any way,"

But Merkey says Microsoft has been "very good to us" when it saw Novell as a common competitor. TRG was working on native read-write file system support for NTFS until its lawyers turned nasty earlier this month. Markey responded by terminating his contract with Microsoft.

"I dissolved the agreements, said here's your shit back and get out of my face." He's disappointed as he had good working relationships with Redmond developers. And he doesn't expect a comeback similar to the trouble he had from Novell. "Intellectual property is defined as source code and documentation, and we don't have that anymore," he says. "It's not like I'm posting the source code on the web - I'm not." TRG is now working on implementing a clean room alternative instead.

Despite some vivid and memorable arguments with key free software developers over the past year, Merkey says "Linux and Alan Cox have made us feel like family," and he was full of praise for luminaries such as Hans Reiser (ReiserFS) and IDE guy Andre Hedrick, whose independent approach to Microsoft to may have precipitated Microsoft's NTFS volte face. It's to be hoped they change - as Hedrick told The Register, co-operation is just the kind of thing that could swing an appeals court.

If not, Merkey's a man who knows where the bodies are buried. As he wrote earlier this month:-

"The last thing they need is for me to take the stand and testify as to what kind of deals they offered to get us to leave Novell in 1997 and divide the NetWare markets by using the 'Linux IP Laundry-Mat' to launder Novell's NDS for their consumption." ®

Sponsored: How to determine if cloud backup is right for your servers