Novell promises to indemnify Linux users

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Reed Stevenson

SEATTLE: Business software maker Novell Inc. said that it would indemnify customers using its SuSE Linux software, the latest in a string of steps by the operating system's promoters to assure users that Linux won't become a legal headache.

Provo, Utah-based strong push into the market for providing software update and support services for Linux, the operating system that can be copied and modified freely.

"We are taking our support to a whole new level," Novell chief executive Jack Messman told Reuters. "We think this a key step so that we can support the adoption of Linux in the enterprise."

Linux has proven to be Novell, which will also close its $210 million acquisition of SuSE Linux at midnight EST (0500 GMT) on Tuesday, is making a popular among businesses, since they can turn relatively inexpensive personal computers running Intel Corp.'s chips into powerful servers that dish up Web pages, handle financial transactions and store data.

The Linux community, however, has been at odds for nearly a year with The SCO Group Inc., another Utah company that is suing International Business Machines Corp. for illegally embedding parts of SCO's Unix software code in versions of the freely available Linux operating system.

SCO also warned companies that they must pay to use Linux, which is based on the proprietary Unix operating system, or face litigation.

Messman said that the indemnification program was "not meant to address any one company or threat," but the initiative is similar to Hewlett-Packard Co.'s offer, made in September, to indemnify its customers who use the Linux operating system against potential legal troubles.

And on Monday Open Source Development Labs, or OSDL, a nonprofit industry consortium that is working to promote further adoption of Linux, launched a legal defense fund for Linux users against copyright infringement lawsuits.

That fund, which has collected $3 million of its $10 million goal, was backed by initial pledges from IBM, Intel and Linux device software developer MontaVista Software Inc.

Novell, which at one point owned the rights to Unix before it came to be owned by SCO, is offering indemnification protection for its registered customers for the latest version of SuSE Linux and who, after Monday, sign up for an upgrade license agreement and support contract.

SuSE, based in Nuremberg, Germany, and with annual revenue around $40 million, is Europe's leading distributor of Linux, a family of software that gives software programmers open access to its underlying code. The closely held company ranks second among independent distributors of Linux behind Red Hat Inc., of Raleigh, North Carolina.

(C) Reuters