Ubuntu, Red Hat reject Microsoft patent deal

Red Hat, the largest Linux vendor, and Ubuntu-maker Canonical have both rejected calls from Microsoft to forge a deal similar to the one the Redmond giant signed with Linux distributors Novell, Xandros, and Linspire.

Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical's CEO, said in a blog posting on Saturday, that 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.

Red Hat remains unmoved
Red Hat said there would be no such deal. Referring to previous statements distancing itself from Microsoft, the company insisted: "Red Hat's standpoint has not changed."

The company referenced a statement written when Microsoft revealed it was partnering with Novell, saying that its position remained unaltered. Red Hat director of corporate communications Leigh Day added: "We continue to believe that open source and the innovation it represents should not be subject to an unsubstantiated tax that lacks transparency."

Many open-source followers argue that Red Hat, as the largest Linux vendor, would have a lot to lose from partnering with Microsoft.

Ubuntu cold on Microsoft Open XML
In the same blog post, Canonical's 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.

Linspire and Xandros
Microsoft has already made deals with Novell, Linspire and Xandros, but the latter two are much smaller companies.

Linspire will work closely with Microsoft in a number of areas, including instant messaging and Web search. Although Microsoft has said that open source infringes its patents, the software giant has agreed not to sue users of Linspire.

Microsoft's deal with Xandros, a distributor, is based on both technical and legal considerations. They will work on improving interoperability between their servers to improve systems management.

Microsoft's pact with Novell is rather more complex. The two companies are marketing each other's products and are working on product interoperability. Their pact is subject to a series of sales- and patent-related payments worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

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