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Novell Indemnifies Linux Users

By Jay Lyman
Jan 13, 2004 10:16 AM PT

A day after technology giants IBM and Intel threw their financial weight into the fight to defend the Linux operating system from the copyright claims and legal threats of Utah-based SCO Group, Novell has announced it will indemnify users of its newly acquired SuSE Linux software systems.

Novell Indemnifies Linux Users

Following the lead of Hewlett-Packard, which was praised for its savvy in being the first Linux vendor to indemnify customers in the face of SCO's source-code claims last September against IBM, Novell said enterprise users of its SuSE Linux Enterprise Server will now have an additional measure of protection against certain intellectual property challenges to Linux.

Novell and HP Confident

The move was announced a day after SCO president and CEO Darl McBride challenged Linux vendors to "put their money where their mouth is and protect end users with true vendor-based indemnification."

McBride's challenge served as SCO's response to the announcement of a legal defense fund for Linux, which will be supported by technology giants including Intel and IBM. IBM is being sued by SCO for US$3 billion over contractual issues related to the alleged porting of SCO source code into Linux.

Yankee Group senior analyst Dana Gardner said that while the issues and code will have to be examined in court, indemnification by HP and Novell signals both companies' confidence that SCO will not prevail.

"It is marketing, but it is also saying, 'We're ready to do battle in court -- let's go,'" Gardner told LinuxInsider. "The message to end users, to customers, in having indemnification from HP and Novell is this: 'We view these as frivolous lawsuits.'"

Following HP Path

Gardner, who referred to the strategic tit-for-tat posturing going on between SCO and Linux defenders, said Novell is following HP's move but also is adding credibility to the notion that IBM and Linux users are safe from SCO's assault.

"They probably wouldn't have done that without doing their homework," Gardner said of Novell's indemnification. "If HP and Novell have a fund to back the legal necessities, then they must feel pretty comfortable."

Touting its unique offering of "a full stack of Linux," Novell said it is providing the indemnification for SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8 customers to keep Linux safe from litigation.

"Novell is committed to the success of Linux," said Novell chairman and chief executive Jack Messman in a statement. "With our new indemnification program, we are reducing the barriers to the adoption of Linux in the enterprise."

HP vice president of Linux Martin Fink praised the move, stating, "We are pleased to see and are in favor of Novell's effort to extend protection and peace of mind to its customer base."

IBM's De Facto Protection

While some industry analysts have called on IBM to provide its own indemnity to Linux customers, Big Blue has remained relatively quiet in its legal battle with SCO and has not announced any indemnification plans.

However, the Yankee Group's Gardner said the company is essentially providing the same kind of protection through the legal defense fund for Linux announced Monday. He did add that indemnification from IBM could have a public-relations payoff by fostering a perception that the computing giant is "stepping up to the plate in every way."

"But they're the ones with a $3 billion lawsuit, so they have a reason to do what they did," Gardner said. "They are providing de facto protection -- it's the same as indemnification, but it doesn't put them at a legal disadvantage, which may be why they did what they did."

Invalidation or Vindication?

Gardner, who argued that the protections afforded through indemnification are a good idea regardless of the SCO suit, said the move by two major vendors in the Linux world puts more pressure on SCO.

"If SCO is serious, they should now follow through," he said.

SCO spokesperson Blake Stowell, who said the company plans to take a large, high-profile Linux user to court within 30 days, disagreed that the indemnification announcements are an indication that his company's case is weak.

"Actually, we view it quite the opposite," Stowell told LinuxInsider. "If there were no concerns our intellectual property made it into Linux, there would be no reason to protect the end user."

Stowell, whose company provided court-compelled details of its evidence to IBM this week, referred to Novell's indemnification as "very limited."

"If I were an end user, I'm not sure I'd gain much comfort from it," he said.

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