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Open-source leader leaving Novell for Google

Samba co-founder Jeremy Allison says he objects to Novell's patent pact with Microsoft, heads to search giant.

Jeremy Allison, a high-profile open-source programmer, has resigned from Novell because of objections over its patent deal with Microsoft and is moving to Google.

In his resignation letter, Allison said Novell's patent pact with Microsoft has crippled the Linux seller's relations with the open-source community. At Google, he'll continue his work on Samba, the open-source project he helped launch. Samba is software that lets Linux servers share files on Windows networks.

Jeremy Allison
Jeremy Allison

"Whilst the Microsoft patent agreement is in place there is nothing we can do to fix community relations...Until the patent provision is revoked, we are pariahs," Allison said in the letter, quoting from an earlier message he sent to Novell management. Allison joined Novell in 2005 after working at Hewlett-Packard.

Groklaw, a site that monitors open-source legal affairs, published Allison's resignation letter Thursday. Allison on Thursday confirmed the letter's authenticity, saying he had sent it to an internal Novell mailing list, but declined to comment further on his departure from Novell.

Google is a major open-source software user and participates in several open-source programming projects. , a key lieutenant to Linux leader Linus Torvalds, works there, for example.

Novell spokesman Bruce Lowry declined to comment on Allison's views, but said the company still employs two Samba programmers. "We wish him the best," Lowry said.

You win some, you lose some
Meanwhile, Novell has rehired another open-source figure, Hubert Mantel, a co-founder of Suse Linux. He left the company in November 2005, but returned in December of this year. "I had more than one year of time to think about my future and came to the conclusion that the thing I'm most interested in still is Linux," he said in an interview with the online magazine Data Manager.

Mantel also defended the Microsoft deal: "I understand that many people don't like it as Novell is collaborating with the 'evil empire,'" he said in the interview. "But I don't like this way of thinking. We are not working against somebody, but we are working for Linux. Fundamentalism always leads to pain. I think it is a good thing, especially for the users."

Under the Microsoft-Novell partnership, Microsoft purchased coupons to sell 350,000 copies of Novell's Suse Linux Enterprise Server and agreed not to sue Suse users for patent infringement. The two companies also are working to make elements of each other's software work together. Microsoft is paying Novell a net amount of $308 million for the five-year deal, much of it for Novell agreeing to not to sue Microsoft over patent claims.

But Allison said the Novell-Microsoft deal violates the open-source principles of giving equal rights to all users of a particular program, even if it doesn't technically violate the General Public License (GPL) that governs Samba and the Linux kernel.

"My issue with this deal is I believe that even if it does not violate the letter of the license it violates the intent of the GPL license the Samba code is released under, which is to treat all recipients of the code equally," Allison wrote.

The deal caused rancor among open-source fans. Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and original author of the General Public License (GPL), said in November that Novell's Microsoft partnership doesn't violate version 2 of the GPL but that changes coming with the version 3 under development will preclude such deals.

Linux rival Red Hat has pounced on Novell's move, as well. Mark Webbink, one of Red Hat's top lawyers for the company, called Novell's move "appeasement...the sacrifice of principles" in his blog, likening it to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's ill-fated "peace in our time" announcement that he thought would stave off World War II.

And although Novell and Microsoft have scrapped over some particulars of the deal, both companies have defended it. Last week, .