It's now almost two months since Novell and Microsoft announced that they entered a patent agreement, in which they promise not to sue each each other's customers.
People have started to wonder whether Linux infringes on Microsoft's patents or not. Of course it does, and this is not really news. But on the other hand, Windows XP certainly infringes on patents owned by IBM, Red Hat and other free software heavyweights. This is how the patent system works these days — mutually assured destruction with some patent trolls entering the game as fundamentalists equipped with nuclear weapons.
Besides this there is also another reason why Microsoft cannot sue anyone over Linux directly. Microsoft is still a convicted monopolist and a patent suit against a competitor will probably result in a break-up in no time. While it is technically not illegal to enforce patents against a competitor the political pressure would be overwhelming.
However, what I find is the hardest to understand about this whole mess is the utter disrespect Novell has shown towards the free software community. I mean, couldn't they just ask any major figure what he or she thinks of the deal? Given that basically no-one of the community shows sympathy for it, it is not too hard to guess which answer Novell would have received if they had asked around.
While the deal is probably business as usual for Microsoft, several problems will face up on Novell's side. Many SuSE developers are alienated by the imagination that their hard work will result in even more cash in Microsoft's pockets. Same goes for users who refuse to pay the ubiquitous Windows tax when buying a new PC. SuSE is probably off their list. But the worst outcome for Novell would be if they could not ship GPLv3 code under the present deal — forking the entire GNU toolchain, Samba and numerous other essential packages is something Novell will not be able to handle. But we will have to see with what the FSF comes up in the end.
However sad it is to see the downfall of one the oldest Linux distributions, life goes on. The nice thing about free software that if a developer or a distributor decides to do something stupid the rest of the community is largely unaffected. Someone will take Novell's place and SuSE will pass into history as yet another Microsoft competitor bought and ruined by Novell.