Guilty by Association

I remember a time in high school when we had a substitute teacher. This teacher was previously retired but still subbed in from time to time. His look on things was of the old school circa 1960…so he ran quite a tight ship and didn’t appreciate any adverse feedback or smart remarks from the students. I never had a problem with him until the day that I chuckled at a fellow classmate who was in a tug of war match with another student over a text book (evidently, one of them stole the other student’s textbook…whatever) and the teacher decided to get in the fray…so here we have 2 students and a teacher pulling on a textbook in three different directions. I laughed aloud…it was silly to see an older teacher and two ‘punks’ as he’d call them pulling on that book.

I was immediately reprimanded and given detention. When I asked what I did, the response was “apparently nothing but you’re going to stay after anyway”. When I pressed harder for an explanation, I was told that since I thought ‘my two buddies’ were funny, I was staying after. I had been caught in a perplexing situation many people, groups and companies find themselves in…I was guilty by association.

I was reading an article at Linux Today earlier and saw this line from the article, which was penned in defense of Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols (and rightly so…I have no idea why people would call SJVN a shill…he’s the farthest thing from it). I’m not so much concerned with people attacking SJVN so much as I am with the editor’s (it’s an editor’s note) second item that he’s bugged by:

“The other reaction that bugged me was this guilt-by-association that’s been glommed onto openSUSE. Why does this product and its developers suddenly have to take the fall for the actions of Novell?”

So…people shouldn’t do this. We all know that it isn’t fair…but the main fact is they are doing this and have always done this, just like that teacher of mine in high school. I wanted to understand why people aren’t making the connection that openSuse shouldn’t be held accountable for Novell’s actions…but then it hit me…The technology and code being sunk into openSuse as a test ground will one day make it into the Novell Desktop…which, as part of the now famous deal, will make money for Microsoft.

When you look at it in this logical manner, I don’t blame the people the article is condemning for targeting openSuse and I don’t see how anyone can blame them. How many Linux users out there do you know that want to bankroll Microsoft?

It’s how businesses operate. Most CEO’s in today’s society make decisions and lead their company…perhaps an approving board jumps in to give a vote of confidence…but overall, the common employee or programmer isn’t consulted on directions that a platform is going. It’s like this for just about every company I’ve ever worked for…the ‘small guy’ isn’t heard.

The problem with the Novell MS deal is that the small guy is a community of small guys…it’s almost like a union…more powerful in the group than alone. Novell didn’t consider what this deal would do to their community and they didn’t care…there were no channels of communication opened up…there were no private polling of resources within the community…nothing. The deal was brokered and done. But they forgot the community. They forgot that this is Open Source…it’s not business. Open Source isn’t about business and never will be. Open Source Software like Linux is about making a better product because you can, not because someone is paying you to do it. Linux doesn’t make decisions based on any revenue models or forecast loss charts. It is its own entity that bows to no one and serves no business, person, or entity in any greater capacity than any other business, person, or entity.

Novell forgot the community…and in turn, due to their lack of communication on the matter, now have to reap what they sow. Unfortunately, openSuse is not immune to the fallout.

Going further on in the article we see:

“I think these developers are, on the whole, good and decent people who are trying to make the best of a bad situation. They, like many of us, may not be happy with what the Microsoft-Novell deal means. And they, like Jeremy Allison, will have to make some tough calls in the days ahead.”

Let me be honest…I love openSuse and the desktop they’ve built. It’s professional looking, polished, and has a solid feel about it that is fantastic. But I won’t use it ever again. I don’t want any bug report that I make to go into squashing bugs that will eventually end up in a Novell Desktop that is part of any payment of any kind to Microsoft. So now I find myself floating away from openSuse altogether. I think the developers for openSuse are probably exactly what this article is saying…and if they’re smart, they’ll see past the trees to see the forest that is money to Microsoft…and they’ll do something about it sooner than later.

“But I don’t think it’s necessary or worthy to malign the coders participating in openSUSE, nor the results of their hard work.”

I agree we shouldn’t malign the coders…but the results of their work are fair game. Let’s say you’re completely anti-war and you hate all violent actions that some country has taken. You voice your opinion loudly and with vigor…now do you go and malign the mechanic that works down at the bomb manufacturing plan? Nope…he/she is doing their job and probably has a family to support. Do you malign the company that he/she is working for? Maybe a little bit, maybe a lot. Do you malign the IDEA that making bombs is about? YES.

Perhaps bomb making is a poor example…and for that I apologize. Hopefully, you get the gist of what I’m saying. IMHO, The works and the idea behind the works are fair game…they’re products that are part of monetary gain (eventual) for Microsoft. So perhaps we shouldn’t point fingers at the developers and coders…but we definitely can point them at what they’re developing and shout to the top of our lungs “Do you know what your product is being used for!?!?!” and we can also shout to the top of our lungs at the idea that the entire Novell/Microsoft deal encompasses. Can we hold Novell responsible? You bet we can. Can we hold openSuse responsible? It shouldn’t be that way but it is…so, yep.

Back in that classroom, I stayed after for detention. I didn’t whine or complain…nor did I feel it was wrong for my instructor to put me there…after all, I did laugh when I shouldn’t have…so I was guilty by association and I served my ‘time’ as it were right alongside them. The bottom line to all of this is that openSuse code may one day make it into the Novell Desktop which will give cash money to Microsoft. Do I want any part of that? Nope. If some people want to yell at others who don’t see this correlation to try and wake them up, so be it. When Novell neglected to get a pulse from their community, they allowed that community to be associated with their decision…they made openSuse guilty by association. Wrong, sad, and totally irresponsible all at the same time. Maybe some detention time will be good for Novell as well.

Author: devnet

devnet has been a project manager for a Fortune 500 company, a Unix and Linux administrator, a Technical Writer, a System Analyst, and a Systems Engineer during his 20+ years working with Technology.

18 thoughts on “Guilty by Association”

  1. Couldn’t agree with you more. Well said.

    I do feel sorry for some of the folks at OpenSuse, who have no control over Novell/Suses’ actions as a company.

    But I’m not going to use OpenSuse for the reasons you stated. It’s dead to me now.

  2. There’s a couple of things that Novell did that deserve all this crap :

    Firstly to buy a KDE distro and turn it into GNOME; causing an outflow of KDE talent from SUSE. (note that buying a GNOME distro and turn it into KDE is equally idiotic 🙂

    Then by removing a great YOU and replacing with the bastard ZMD causing openSUSE 10.1 to be one of the worst distro on earth when it first comes out.

    Finally to go to sign over Linux to Microsoft.

    What can they think of next?


  3. Ah well, here we go again…
    “Firstly to buy a KDE distro and turn it into GNOME;”
    SUSE has always shipped both KDE and GNOME desktops (as well as XFCE, Window Maker and a few others) but indeed, the most work was put on polishing the KDE desktop.
    Nevertheless, openSUSE isn’t a GNOME desktop now: KDE is still included, full-fledged, probably the best KDE desktop of all Linux distributions.
    And KDE is far better supported than GNOME at the moment, e.g. the latest KDE versions are provided in openSUSE’s Build Service (with the GNOME folks slowly catching up and starting to provide GNOME as part of the Build Service as well).
    Your statement is just 100% wrong, in any case.

    “…causing an outflow of KDE talent from SUSE.”
    Where ? Who ?
    Novell still has a lot of developers working full-time on KDE. Not more, not less. AFAICR one SUSE developer who happened to work on KDE was laid off right after buying SUSE GmbH, but that’s it.

  4. You are forgetting the #0 freedom: do [b]whatever you want[/b] with the code, as long as you grant the same rights to derivatives.

    And if e.g. the Linux kernel is used to build missiles, it’s still a freedom that is granted by the license.

    Restricting what may be done with it or not in such a way — to drop that awful analogy, say, “MS may not use the code I contribute to openSUSE” — is restricting the freedom and “opensourceness” (as you seem to juggle forth and back with the concepts of opensource and Free software)

    But your very first assumption is already wrong: [i]”The bottom line to all of this is that openSuse code may one day make it into the Novell Desktop which will give cash money to Microsoft.”[/i]
    Now how does SLED or SLES [i]”give cash money to Microsoft”[/i] ? Please explain this to me. Read the agreement and the FAQ. Read it again. And then explain.
    If you’re talking about the vouchers, do the math. How is this [b]not[/b] Microsoft giving money to Novell (and not the opposite) ?

    And even if Microsoft was using code that is published under GPL or a BSD-alike license (MPL/BSD/ASL/MIT/X/…), so what (as long as they respect the license) ?
    If they use e.g. the BSD network stack to put it into Windows, so what ? (oh, wait, they’re already doing that since NT 3.51 ;))
    And if Apple takes a BSD kernel, uses it to build MacOSX without giving anything back to the community, so what ?
    As said, it’s granted by the license, and that’s about it.

    But as far as SLED/SLES ending up in [i]”giving cash money to Microsoft”[/i], I really fail to see how you made that one up.

  5. You honestly don’t think Microsoft is doing this out of the goodness of their heart right? Because if my statement on them getting financial gain is wrong…that’s what you’re trying to say…that Microsoft entered an agreement that would not benefit them financial for their business. I have yet to see them enter into an agreement like this.

    I didn’t make this stuff up…it’s just requires a bit of logic. Both sides benefit, that is true…because both sides are getting financial and business gain from the other. Whatever code is given to openSuse that makes it into Novell Desktop, even if small, then helps that arrangement. It’s A + B = C here…nothing fancy.

  6. As to the original ‘guilt by association’ conclusion (laughter), were I the teacher I would have said “By finding your friends bad behavior humorous, you were showing your approval for it, hence your equal guilt.”

    Really a different situation than SuSe-Novell. However, one could easily argue that SuSe is now tainted and should be considered suspect until it is completely removed (management buy-out?) from the Novell-Microsoft arena.

    Of course THAT is impossible without a NOVELL buy-out… where is IBM when you need them…?

  7. you gave linux this anti- or non business type of image and that’s simply not true.

    open source is what anyone wants to make of it.. that’s what freedom is.

    And when you look at company’s like Novell and Redhat and IBM and Sun and Google, and Canonical, (and the list goes on) it is business. In Novells and Redhat’s case.. they have to support both the open source community and their share holders. They have a responsibility to both and it’s a difficult balancing act.

    Why should novell pump millions into a product and only worry about “the community”?

  8. My only concern is if, by donating code to, you are in some way validating Microsoft’s patent covenant, which aims to turn the General Public License into the Novell Community License, where [url=]the only ‘safe’ place for code redistribution is Novell since they are already paying Microsoft royalties for potential patent or ip infringement.[/url]

    Think about it, if Section 7 doesn’t apply to Novell since they are not receiving the patent covenant – but the customers who are receiving it. [url=]By supporting Novell, you accept these new conditions imposed by Microsoft, you may not be able to simultaneously adhere to the MS Patent Pledge and the conditions of the GPL, since any distribution outside of giving back to is disallowed by the MS Patent Pledge.[/url]

    I have said [url=]Hate the Company, not the Community[/url], but it is becoming time for the OpenSUSE folks to wake up and walk out.

  9. @Digduality

    The problem is that Novell made a bad business decision without considering the community. The Linux community does not need Microsoft, or Novell, it is the other way around.

  10. You’re mistaken. Novell (or Red Hat or IBM, or Sun, or whoever) doesn’t “need” the community any more than the community “needs” them. Any corporation is free to use any GPL’ed code they wish for any purpose they desire (remember “Freedom #0 mentioned above?), including building missiles. They owe nothing to the community, outside of upholding the licence agreement of the code they use.

    Likewise, the “community” owes nothing to Novell (or the others). This idealist Free software zealotry is worthless if nobody is using your code. Face it, we all have to learn to play together, as that’s the only way to advance the OSS/FSF agendas.

    Business matters, users matter, and trying to impose a view of “community controls how the code should be used” makes the “community” and the clueless FSF ideologues no better than the DMCA abusers, and the RIAA.

  11. I think he’s actually right on this. If the community evaporated right now…both Red Hat and Novell…the testing grounds of their technology would evaporate with them.

    Any time you remove a step in the business process, subsequent steps suffer. I’d say the same thing would happen here.

    It’s not about what is “owed” to the community or Novell or what isn’t “owed”. It’s about what part the community plays in Novell’s business plan. It’s common sense in any project that if you remove testing, you come out with an untested and many times inferior project. I’d say that they’d have some bumpy roads for a while until they could fill in the vacuum that losing the community would create.

  12. This was a good article, but I think it’s wrong to assign an “above business” mentality to open source. Yes, Microsoft, IBM, Novell, SUN, etc. are all businesses. Yes, they serve their shareholders. Yes they try to profit.

    So what?

    If your prime motivation for using/developing OSS is to be anti-business (microsoft or other), you’ve already doomed yourself to failure.

    The real world can’t be ignored, and we have to be useful to someone, or our code will never be used. Linus realizes this – he works for (horrors) a BUSINESS that PAYS HIM to develop code (gasp).

    Lets examine the real problem here for a minute: Many suggest that the Novell-Ms deal validates Microsoft’s claim of patent infringement. This is FUD, pure and simple. Microsoft has innumerable customers using mixed Linux/Winblows systems, and more now with the Novell-MS deal. Do you really think they’re about to loose the PR ground they gain with this deal by suing Linux customers? Additionally, we’ve all seen what happened when SCO tried to sue linux customers and developers. There is no strategy under which such legal actions can be productive. Microsoft knows this, and they’re not likely to stick their own necks out to test the waters.

    Further, the code developed for better interoperation is Open Source code. Novell doesn’t control it, neither does Microsoft, use it wherever you’d like.


    If we spend our time tearing ourselves apart, Microsoft (or any other evil companies you may be worried about) win without firing a shot. We’ll do their dirty work for them.

    By the way, I am no MS apologist. I use Linux on every system I own or maintain, and with the exception of a few games, have no use for a Wintendo system at all. I share the eventual goals of the FOSS community (mostly), I just think the extremist methods being championed by the FSF and their ilk are more harmful than helpful given the fact that WE DON’T HAVE THE MARKET SHARE TO DICTATE HOW CODE IS USED, OR WHETHER VENDORS SUPPORT THEIR HARDWARE/SOFTWARE PRODUCTS ON LINUX.


    But the tactics suggested by many in the “community” will ensure that we remain a fringe technology, and that would be a shame.

  13. Can’t argue with you a bit here. Without their userbase, the OpenSUSE community would amount to the same “community” as the Windows userbase – the poor slobs who buy their product and play unwilling beta-testers, waiting for the next service patch.

    But don’t you see? The “community” is so tightly intertwined with the “distribution” that you can’t separate the two. The same is true for Red Hat, and IBM (even though they don’t have a distro of their own) and all other OSS consumers/producers.

    The revolution is over, OSS is a valid option. Now we need to figure out how to work proactively with the rest of the world (business, home, whatever). As that’s the ONLY way any significant portion of the population will use our code. It’s also the only way we’ll be able to promote the ideals of free software.

    I simply believe that hurting the distro’s or businesses that use OSS code legally ends up hurting us all (yes, I mean the “community”).

  14. It is very simple. Novell had no right to make any deal which in any way shape or form indirectly or otherwise could be used by anyone to imply any lack of integrity in the code that they don’t own. They had no right to make a deal which comes even within a barge pole of conflicting with any parts what-so-ever of the main license for much of the code. QED. This stain upon Novell will never ever go way. The apologists, turfers, shills, openSUSE supporters etc. can nash their teeth about it all they want, its not going to go away.

  15. All of these enablers who continue to argue about “pragmatism” just don’t seem to get it.

    Novell benefits from GPL code in that they do not bear the traditional cost of research, development and testing. The vast majority of this is done by the greater community at no cost to Novell (besides the parts they actually contribute to)

    In exchange for using this code in their product they are obliged to honor both the letter AND the spirit of the GPL. If Novell is not willing to honor the GPL they are free to build thier own OS with all of the cost that implies.

    I used SuSE since 8.1. It is a great distribution but this betrayal has compelled me to switch distributions and as far as I’m concerned SuSE is no longer a viable option.

    Guilt by association? Absolutely!
    I can understand that some paid SuSE devs may be hesitant to eliminate their income (at least in the short term) but those who contribute to SuSE and are un-paid are very foolish in my estimation. They are actively contributing to the encumberance of the software they would claim to love wether they realize it or will admit it or not.

  16. Personally, I don’t mind if Novell wants to make a generic business deal with Microsoft. They’ll learn soon enough what MS does to its ‘partners’. But the patent aspects of this deal are insidious and far-reaching.

    I would not call openSUSE’s relationship to Novell ‘guilt by association’; they are, for better or for worse, ENABLERS of Novell (as you pointed out: “The technology and code being sunk into openSuse as a test ground will one day make it into the Novell Desktop”) and anyone working on or with openSUSE needs to realize it.

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