Microsoft contributes GPL'd code to old enemy Samba project

Samba once caused the European union to fine Microsoft billions but that's no concern for Microsoft today.

On October 10, a group of developers contributed a patch to the Samba Technical Mailing List. That would be an unexceptional event except that these developers worked for Microsoft, Samba is covered by the GPLv2 and there's a long and not-very-friendly history between Microsoft and the project.

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Samba is a project that maps file/print server services between Linux and Unix servers and Windows clients. It integrates Linux/Unix servers and desktops into Active Directory environments.

The Free Software Foundation includes Samba in a history it keeps on Microsoft's fights against free software. And rightly so. In August 2003, Samba's project leaders, Peter Gerwinski and Jeremy Allison, and the FSF petitioned the European Commission to hear arguments on why Microsoft stands in the way of a competitive file/print server market. This testimony is among the reasons why in 2004, the EC found that Microsoft was indeed violating antitrust regulations and ordered the company to make some changes. In 2008, the EC fined Microsoft $1.26 billion for not complying and again ordered the company to open up the protocols for its software so third-party developers could compete. The order allowed Microsoft to use RAND, meaning Microsoft could charge a low fee to those wanting access to its proprietary wares for their projects but couldn't refuse to share.

In 2007, Samba was one of the first FOSS projects to step up and license the Microsoft protocols.

Chris Hertal of the the Samba team praised how far Microsoft has come in its attitude toward free software in a blog post about the contribution. His point is that the war between free software and Microsoft is SO OVER, that this contribution was natural and only worth a moment's nostalgia.

"A few years back, a patch submission from coders at Microsoft would have been amazing to the point of unthinkable, but the battles are mostly over and times have changed. We still disagree on some things such as the role of software patents in preventing the creation of innovative software; but Microsoft is now at the forefront of efforts to build a stronger community and improve interoperability in the SMB world. Most people didn't even notice the source of the contribution. That's how far things have come in the past four-ish years."

Now, this isn't the first contribution Microsoft has made to projects covered by the GPL -- even projects it once publicly despised. Microsoft has been contributing Hyper-V drivers to the Linux kernel. And way back in 2009, Microsoft contributed plug-ins to its Live@edu services to the Moodle project.

Nevertheless, many in the free open source community are ranting at this contribution to Samba ... pointing out that if Microsoft really wants to bury the hatchet with the open source world, it could stop with the patent infringement lawsuits and it would stop its patent protection racket against Android.

However, the people responsible for sending in the patch are not the ones suing everyone -- but the guys working in Microsoft's open source labs, Jeremy Allison told ZDNet's Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols. "These guys are in the OSS-lab in Microsoft and they’re great!”

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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