Microsoft accused of being in violation of GPL on Hyper-V code

Some say that Microsoft's much ballyhooed donation of Linux drivers was merely to cover its legal tracks.

Microsoft was reportedly in violation of the GPL license on on the Linux kernal Hyper-V code it released to the open source community this week. The drivers Microsoft created used both open-source and closed source components which is a clear no-no under the GPL.

The misuse of open source code by Microsoft was discovered when a user was trying to figure out how to support a Hyper-V network driver in the Vyatta kernel, says Stephen Hemminger, a principal engineer with open-source network vendor Vyatta in his Network Plumbers Journal blog. Vyatta makes open-source routing software that runs on a Windows or Linux server. Hemminger writes:

"This saga started when one of the user's on the Vyatta forum inquired about supporting Hyper-V network driver in the Vyatta kernel. A little Googling found the necessary drivers, but on closer examination there was a problem. The driver had both open-source components which were under GPL, and statically linked to several binary parts. The GPL does not permit mixing of closed and open source parts, so this was an obvious violation of the license."

Hemminger told Novell's Greg Kroah-Hartman about the situation, who then turned around and lobbied for Microsoft to do the right thing and open all the code under the GPL. In my opinion, using the GPL for the Linux drivers was the only thing Microsoft could do, besides killing the drivers altogether. And it couldn't do that because that would mean Microsoft was refusing to allow Linux distros to be operated on Windows Servers in a Hyper-V VM. Not a good option when battling VMware and Red Hat.

So, does this knowledge hurt Microsoft's practically non-existent credibility with the open source community? Maybe, but not necessarily in the way of the past. Two years ago, Microsoft was the bully claiming its rights had been violated. Today it has been shown to be the one that violated the agreement of the open source community. This in turn has forced it into recognizing the validity of the GPL license, and it can't go back now. With that barrier gone, Microsoft is free to use that license in the future. As it opens its code it will discover that the open source world is not evil, but full of brilliant people with good ideas that could help Microsoft build ever better tools for Windows.

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