Microsoft GPL Linux Drivers First Legit Open Source Contribution

Dawn of a new day or Microsoft validation of the GPL software model?

While Microsoft has made some prior moves to be more friendly towards open source (albeit slightly more friendly), Microsoft's GPLv2 contribution of Linux drivers will be seen as the first legitimate Microsoft move by the Linux open source and user communities. Microsoft's cozy relationship with Novell and SUSE, and their implied threats about Linux infringing on Microsoft's patents, have left most to believe Microsoft isn't serious about working with the Linux crowd. Today's move could be the first serious step in changing that, with "first" being the important factor here.

The 22k lines of code contributed under the GPLv2 allows Linux distros (eventually all that incorporate it) to run under Hyper-V on Windows Server 2008. That's probably not that interesting to a Linux purist or someone wanting to avoid Microsoft entanglements, but it is important to Microsoft shops who potentially want Hyper-V to be their virtual environment of choice or at least want the flexibility to run Linux under Hyper-V. The benefits to Microsoft, Hyper-V and Windows Server 2008 are obvious, even though most of us doubted we'd see a contribution like this come from Microsoft.Here are some of the comments about Microsoft's GPL contribution to Linux I received from some of my current and previous co-workers who are very well respected for their technical chops in Windows and Linux.

As someone who has gone through the pains of compiling centos kernels for hyperv and then the drivers this helps.  Still will have to compile the kernel since cenots/redhat is not officially supported like suse/novell. Personally I feel its vindication for both sides of the fence but in different ways.  People being happy about it indicates that they use ms virtualization.  I think the FOSS community is glad to see MS giving back. - Brad Wherry

Well I’d say this. Joel (linux guy) was mixed, his comment was ‘well they aren’t going to do anything that doesn’t help them’ which is true since this will make it easier to run Windows as a host OS.  My thought is that it’s only good for everyone – clearly good for MS but also for Linux as there are a ton of guys out there that would love to run Linux in a VM (and the better it runs in that VM the better for Linux). That’s pretty much where I stand. It’ll be interesting if anything is learned from the code (about their process, etc, etc).  22k lines isn’t trivial. My guess is the biggest person to get hurt by this is VMWare as this makes using the Microsoft stuff that much better (possibly)… Interesting to say the least. - Ross Carlson

Interoperability baby! I think it’s good... I’ve always said that Linux strength was on the back end on the command line.  And Windows and Mac both have strength in the UI. I’ve said many times that the best thing Microsoft could do would be to put out a window manager that runs on a linux backend.  They could sell it for as much as they charge for the full OS and it would pay out in the long run.  Mac did it, and now you get a lovely BSD backed to Mac. That’s almost enough for me to go Mac full time. Except for the games. - John Curry

This move (and others) says several things to me:

1. Microsoft's (becoming) serious about working with and supporting other non-Microsoft and open source technologies. Linux on Hyper-V. SharePoint 2010 and Office 2010 Web Apps support of Firefox and Opera browsers. PHP support and efforts to attract PHP apps on the Azure cloud platform. The world has more than just Microsoft technology in it and Microsoft has begun to recognize this and at least provide enough support so you don't have to have an all Microsoft platform or desktop to live in a world of more than just Redmond compatible software. 2. Recognition of the GPL. Now that Microsoft has contributed code to Linux through the GPLv2, it will be hard for them, and others, to say the GPL and indirectly open source isn't a viable software model. It is. It's just not Microsoft's software model, except as an avenue to provide support and interoperability between Linux and Windows. 3. Won't sway the faithful. It's easy to overstate this move by Microsoft and herald it as the dawn of a new day. While most of us thought we'd never see this kind of a move, it doesn't mean we'll see hordes of passionate from the Linux camp suddenly see Microsoft is a brand new light. Some may, most won't. (I'm just be pragmatic here.) There are still many unsolvable oppositions from an open source perspective, so expect Microsoft to still be viewed as the evil empire by most. What this move does do is help enable heterogeneous environments, and show an acknowledgement by Microsoft that Linux support is important to Microsoft's future.

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