Novell bans (likely illegal) proprietary Linux modules

An article by Stephen Shankland, Staff Writer, CNET News.com includes:

"Many developers in the kernel community consider kernel level modules to be subject to the GPL terms. Novell respects this position and has a policy of distributing kernel modules that are compatible with the GPL," said Holger Dyroff, vice president of Linux product management, in a statement.

Some of those opposed to proprietary modules work for Novell itself. Kernel programmer Greg Kroah-Hartman, in a July speech at the Ottawa Linux Symposium, stated bluntly, "Closed-source Linux modules are illegal." Not only that, but they're "unethical" as well, he said.

This is a great move by Novell, and protects Novell from the legal and other practical problems which these binary-only drivers cause. They are impossible to diagnose problems for, and thus are a large problems for companies like Novell which offer a full spectrum of support contracts for their software.

I was at Greg's talk at OLS, and one of the things he failed to mention is that binary-only drivers are also bad for the hardware manufacturers. It doesn't keep the interfaces secret, as falsely claimed, given binaries can be easily reverse engineered. What it does do is make using the hardware less supportable, and the hardware vendors lose the benefits of peer production and peer distribution where their hardware would work "out of the box" with a FLOSS driver and where more experienced and motivated people could fix bugs in the drivers.