Novell has taken its share of heat for its Microsoft lovefestthat sought to privilege SUSE Linux as patent-protected while everyone else's Linux was ripe for a lawsuit...or 20.
But Novell isn't the only one to have entered into this kind of exclusionary patent covenant with Microsoft, as news from Ars Technica shows. Sun, too, has such an agreement with Microsoft, but it covers StarOffice, not Linux, and leaves users of OpenOffice to sweat.
If you've read this blog for more than nanosecond, you know that I think the threat of a Microsoft patent lawsuit is less than nil. Microsoft faces no threat from OpenOffice and, as a convicted monopolist, isn't about to stir up the interest and ire of the US Department of Justice in order to spank a few OpenOffice users, even despite the almost certain fact that OpenOffice violates Microsoft patents. (I can't see how it couldn't. But then, Microsoft violates Novell's patents on office technology and probably IBM's, too. Mutually assured destruction....)
I doubt the new, open-source friendly Sun would have caved on this provision, which allows Microsoft to sue OpenOffice users and developers for copies installed after April 1, 2004. Not easily, anyway. So I don't think it's time to pull out the knives on Sun.
But it does reflect an ugly agreement that is on par with Novell's agreement with Microsoft. Carving out room for Sun's commercial product while leaving OpenOffice (almost wholly developed by Sun) open to patent suits is cynical, however convenient.
Again, I don't think we'll ever see a suit from Microsoft on this issue. I just wish Sun wouldn't have capitulated on this point.