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No Microsoft-Ubuntu deal in the works, Canonical CEO says

Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth says 'no thanks' to patent protection deals like the ones Microsoft has signed with other Linux distributors.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
2 min read

Anyone expecting a technical and legal partnership between Microsoft and Ubuntu distributor Canonical to follow existing Microsoft-Linux deals will be disappointed--at least for now.

Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth in a blog posting on Saturday said a deal that resembles the pacts that Microsoft has signed with Linux distributors Novell, Xandros, and Linspire is not on the table.

He said Canonical has declined to talk to Microsoft about any agreement that provides legal protection to Ubuntu users related to "unspecified patents."

"Allegations of 'infringement of unspecified patents' carry no weight whatsoever. We don't think they have any legal merit, and they are no incentive for us to work with Microsoft on any of the wonderful things we could do together," he wrote.

Shuttleworth said these patent agreements create "a false sense of security" and do not effectively protect the user from a patent suit from a big company like Microsoft.

Canonical is a commercial company that sponsors free-software projects and provides services for the Ubuntu Linux distribution.

Following Microsoft's wide-ranging deal with Novell last fall, Microsoft in the past month has announced similar deals with Xandros and Linspire. They cover technical interoperability and offer legal indemnification to some customers who use those Linux distributions.

Microsoft has not yet sued any of those companies but has said it has identified 235 Microsoft patents on which Linux infringes.

Last week, Microsoft's general manager of interoperability and standards, Tom Robertson, said Microsoft is eager to extend these types of arrangements to other Linux and open-source companies, calling it an "issue of coexistence."

No deal between Microsoft and leading commercial Linux distributor Red Hat has happened. After the announcement of Microsoft's Novell contract, Red Hat said it would not pay an "innovation tax" to Microsoft.

Cold on Open XML
In the same posting, Shuttleworth said pursuing technical interoperability between rival document formats Office Open XML and OpenDocument--included in the other Linux deals--was not worth the effort. He did say Ubuntu stands to benefit from investments to improve interoperability between Linux and Windows.

"I have no confidence in Microsoft's Open XML specification to deliver a vibrant, competitive and healthy market of multiple implementations. I don't believe that the specifications are good enough, nor that Microsoft will hold itself to the specification when it does not suit the company to do so," Shuttleworth said.

OpenDocument Format, or ODF, is better, and Microsoft should improve its support for that standard, he said.

Shuttleworth did not rule out working with Microsoft in some capacity but made clear that the makeup of its existing Linux partnerships held little interest for Canonical.

"All the deals announced so far strike me as trinkets in exchange for air kisses," he said.