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Moglen: How we'll kill the Microsoft Novell deal

We'll fight them on the breaches...

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The Novell-Microsoft deal certainly shows Redmond's desire to draw a line between the "free"and "open" communities. In an interview on Friday, Bill Gates was effusive in his praise for the "purity" of Richard Stallman, the original author of the GPL.

Did the term "Open Source" mean anything, any longer?

"They're going to have to co-opt a new vocabulary," thought Moglen, "because the old vocabulary just died on them."

"I agree with you. This was the week 'Open Source' ceased to be a useful phrase because it denoted everything up to and including Microsoft's attempts to destroy free. Language is subject to this problem. Since the beginning of time uprising movements have taken pleasure in perverting the language of criticism used against them by the ancien regime - the 'brave beggars' of the Netherlands, and Yankee Doodle, and the Whigs and the Tories - it's all the same terms of dis-endearment turned into a weapon. But the game is also played by modern propaganda in the other direction - by turning language into the property of the guy on top: Fox News "Fair & Balanced (tm)".

"What Microsoft did to 'Open Source' was what Stallman always said could be done to it: first you take the politics out, and when the veal has been bleached absolutely white, you can cover it with any sauce you like. And that's what Microsoft did, and 'Open Source' became the sauce on top of Microsoft proprietarianism. And once that process has been completed they have to go after the next vocabulary."

And now?

"So now they're going to try the hard work of cracking 'Freedom'. Free, well that means stuff you don't pay for..."

Microsoft had always been very astute in its analysis, we suggested. While the press focused on the open, or distributed nature of the production process, Redmond identified the fact that the GPL was viral as the real attack. "That's right. They understood the copyleft problem well - and understood the GPL well. But they didn't want to talk about the enemy because of the rule in American political campaigns that you don't say the name of your opponent in case people remember it. They don't do that anymore. They've dropped the mask," he suggested.

"What's happened is that "Open Source" has died as a useful phrase - Free Software, the GPL, the FSF - all have become major stakeholders in the industry in Microsoft's verbiage."

"Once you're a major stakeholder you don't go back to being a minor stakeholder unless you go bankrupt - and we can never go bankrupt because we have no business to lose.

"So if we're a major stakeholder now we stay that way until the end of the chapter, and that's a problem for Microsoft." ®

[ Bootnote: Novell points out, "More money flows to Novell under the patent agreement to provide patent protection to Microsoft products than to Microsoft to cover Novell's products (both open source and proprietary). . The money around patents was $108 million to Novell, $40 million to Microsoft - a net of $68 million to Novell. Most of that flowed to Novell for a patent agreement covering Novell's proprietary products, not to Microsoft to cover Novell's products (both open source and proprietary). The quoted figure of $348m lumps $240 million of pre-paid SUSE Linux Enterprise Server subscriptions into the patent money, making the whole deal sound like a patent deal. Patents were a relatively minor part of this deal."

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