Brussels, Nov 22: Supporters of PC operating system Linux are preparing to counter a recent deal penned by Microsoft Corp which establishes for the first time the principle of paying the software giant for the operating system, whose license requires it to be free.
Microsoft signed a deal with Novell, one of the providers of Linux, in which Novell paid it a lump sum in return for a guarantee that Microsoft would not sue Novell's clients for what it calls a violation of its own patents in the Linux program.
The prospect of a drawn-out legal battle with Microsoft, an experienced litigator, could push users of Linux into the hands of Novell and away from dominant Linux provider, Red Hat, which does not have such a deal with Microsoft.
Although Linux is free, providers of the system offer the software with packaging, documentation and -- most important -- installation and maintenance, so any client shift from Red Hat would cost it money.
"Either customers desert Red Hat to go to Novell, to get safety, or Red Hat will be forced into a similar deal with Microsoft," said Eban Moglen, a professor at Columbia Law School and founding director of the Software Freedom Law Center in New York.
Moglen, one of the pioneers of free software, said Microsoft's deal skirts the requirements of the GNU General Public License, used by Linux and other free programs, which requires the software to be given away.
He and others have started work on updating the license to close the loophole by saying a promise not to sue, such as the one given by Microsoft, would be automatically applicable to everyone.
That would effectively flip Microsoft's agreement on its head and guarantee that no one would face a suit from Microsoft if anyone were protected.