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This week in Linux news

Sun to provide legal protection from patent-infringement suits to those using, developing open-source Solaris--a move to counter Linux.

When Sun Microsystems releases Solaris as open-source software, it plans to provide legal protection from patent-infringement suits to outsiders using or developing the operating system--one of several ways to counter Linux.

Details of that protection plan won't be revealed until Sun announces its licensing terms for open-source Solaris in the coming weeks.

But at an event this week to announce the Solaris 10 OS, Sun Chief Executive Scott McNealy offered an example of how patent protection could work. McNealy mentioned his company's $92 million payment to Kodak to settle a patent suit over Java that could have affected others who ship Java products.

"You should have a company that can protect you and take that $92 million bullet," McNealy said. Sun also has an arsenal of patents it can use as the basis for countersuits against computing companies, he said, adding that "most people with network-computing intellectual property probably don't want to come after us, because we might go right after them."

Intellectual-property protection of open-source software has moved to the forefront in the computing industry as the result of matters such as the SCO Group's ongoing attack on Linux.

However, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer warned that Linux may not really be free given the intellectual-property risks that could be posed by the open-source operating system. Answering questions after a speech to government officials in Singapore, Ballmer noted that entities using Linux could be opening themselves up to intellectual-property litigation.

"There was a report out this summer by an open-source group that highlighted that Linux violates over 228 patents," Ballmer said. "Someday, for all countries that are entering (the World Trade Organization), somebody will come and look for money to pay for the patent rights for that intellectual property. So the licensing costs are less clear than people think today."

Actually, the study by the start-up Open Source Risk Management found that Linux may violate 283 patents, but Ballmer's point was clear.

The SCO Group's legal actions against Linux have shed light on the inner workings of the open-source programming project and on the operations of a company desperate to survive. They've also created a cottage industry for conspiracy theorists over Microsoft's role in the affair. In an effort to separate fact from fiction, CNET this week answered some of the more common questions swirling around the SCO-Microsoft relationship.