Pigs are flying low: Why Microsoft open-sourced its Linux drivers

Pigs are flying low: Why Microsoft open-sourced its Linux drivers

Summary: The pigs are still in the air. Microsoft really did release not one, but two, pieces of code under the formerly Microsoft-hated GNU General Public License (GPL) this week. But one of the key reasons Microsoft agreed to do this was left out of the original tale told by the Softies.

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The pigs are still in the air. Microsoft really did release not one, but two, pieces of code under the formerly Microsoft-hated GNU General Public License (GPL) this week. And it still seems the Linux drivers it put under the GPL on July 20 are on their way to becoming incorporated into the next version of the Linux kernel.

But as my ZDNet blogging colleague Paula Rooney and TechFlash's Todd Bishop both noted yesterday, one of the key reasons Microsoft agreed to do this was left out of the original tale told by the Softies.

Microsoft originally was licensing the Linux drivers, also known as the Linux Integration Components (LIC), in a way that was in violation of the GPL. It was offering them under a combination of the GPL and a closed source license.

Greg Kroah-Hartman, a Novell fellow with SuSE Labs and Linux Driver Project lead, said on Monday he was approached by a "community member" about the drivers months ago and that he thought it would be a good idea for Microsoft to submit them. What Kroah-Hartman didn't mention (until he later added an update to his blog post) was the community member who approached him was the "Linux Network Plumber," a k a Stephen Hemminger, a well-known Linux contributor who is a principal engineer with the open-source networking vendor Vyatta.

Hemminger made it clear in his own blog post that he didn't approach Kroah-Hartman because he liked Microsoft's drivers; he approached him because the way Microsoft was licensing them -- by mixing open- and closed source components -- was in violation of the GPL.

I re-contacted Kroah-Hartman last night to verify this new piece of information. Here's what he said, via e-mail:

MJF: Hemminger is claiming Microsoft put the LIC code under the GPL because it was in violation of the GPL. Is this true? Did you have to suggest to (Microsoft Platform Strategy Chief Sam) Ramji & Co. that they were in violation in order to get them to agree to release the code under GPLv2?

GKH: I didn't have to "suggest" anything, I only had to merely point out the obviousness of the situation  :)

MJF: If this isn't accurate, could you let me know how to interpret (Hemminger's) comments on his blog.

GKH: No, that sounds accurate.

This isn't the first time Microsoft has run afoul of the open-source licensing police. The company has pulled code from its CodePlex site when it was discovered that it was not adhering to OSI licensing terms but advertising that the code was under an open-source license.

I've asked Microsoft officials if they'd like to comment on this new piece of information. If I get a response, I will add it to this post.

Update (July 24): It took a few days, but Microsoft has issued an official response, via a posting to the Port 25 blog. Microsoft is sticking to its original story, in spite of Kroah-Hartman and Hemminger's updates. From Ramji's post:

"Microsoft chose the GPLv2 license for the mutual benefit of our customers, partners, the community, and Microsoft.

"Microsoft's decision was not based on any perceived obligations tied to the GPLv2 license."

Ramji didn't come right out and deny the GPL violations claim, but I guess that's as much as we're going to get.

Topics: Operating Systems, Linux, Microsoft, Open Source, Software

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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42 comments
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  • gpl2 forced them to free the source code

    In my opinion they need to kill virtualbox, vmware or kvm
    (redhat/ubuntu) so it's doesn't matter to throw some lines of
    code to the linux kernel via the novell proxy programmers

    Here is why again they were forced to free (liberate) the code
    http://passthesource.org.nz/2009/07/22/donating-code/
    also some boycott novell remarks
    http://boycottnovell.com/2009/07/21/microsoft-linux-v-patch/

    mariuz
  • At one person has very low expectations here

    At least one person, Randal C. Kennedy, has <a href="http://www.infoworld.com/print/83969">a very low opinion</a> of this. He seems to think this is part of the usual embrace, extend, extinguish campaign that Microsoft is sure to follow.

    Although I'm willing to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt, I'm not willing to give them that much benefit. With revenues tanking, and competitors all around encroaching on their once exclusive territory, it'd be hard not to see them try again to beat Linux with patents.
    epitax
  • So typical...

    The softies couldn't even comprehend and follow the rules in the GPL license!

    SpikeyMike
  • Just a small part of "The Microsoft Creep"

    (Embrace, Extend, Assimilate or Exterminate)

    http://boycottnovell.com/2009/07/20/microsoft-fcc-steven-vanroekel/
    Microsoft ?Takes Over? the FCC

    MANY FOSS PEOPLE ARE no friends of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) because the FCC is no friend of Free software. They went as far as public humiliation. Some recent FCC scandals aside (Professor Lessig wants them thrown out), the FCC repeatedly fails to carry out its job; business interests are sometimes blamed for bias, apathy, or sympathy towards offending companies which the FCC is there to regulate and punlish. So, it may as well be stated that the new Managing Director of the FCC is a Microsoft executive, who is changing hats.
    Ole Man
    • And the link proves what?

      That anything can be reported on with a slant or bias in a particular direction.

      The FCC is against FOSS because [place slant here]

      Microsoft controls the FCC because an [b]EX[/b] Microsoft director was picked for the job?

      So if a Google executive leaves for a new company, that means that Google now controls that new company? Just applying your logic.

      Sometimes many people involved in FOSS tend to think that they are entitled to more then their fair share as they are "working for free", and cry when they are forced to stand in line with he rest of the world.

      GuidingLight
      • Just goes to show

        That anybody can see beauty or ugly in anything they look at, and if their sight is predetermined to see only beautiful things in every ugly thing they behold, it won't make any difference what they see.
        Ole Man
        • And you are exempt..

          from doing the same for your imaginary ugly things?

          Seems pretty obvious that you spread more propaganda and hate then anyone else here.

          Interesting how your own logic never applies to you.

          You are now dismissed from your position of Microsoft hater until you can at least be more crediable in that role. Take a vacation and come back when you are thinking more clearly.
          ShadowGIATL
          • Um, right

            You've given us reason to give you a tech license: "crediable".

            I'm not a Micro$oft hater. They've paid a lot of bills since '85 or '86. And I own stock.

            But I am granted my observations and the right to point out their flaws and my observations, regardless of how critical (they might be).

            It's been asserted Micro$oft was going to try to dip a toe into the open source world, but only with particular pieces exposed. I'd liken that to the exits IBM has had in their world of boat anchors.

            I believe they were trying to make their first attempt in an area which would be immune from making their own ca$h cows branded. If they failed, they could say it explains why Linux is so complicated and Windows is so easy.

            Their problem was trying (or giving the impression ) to think they could outsmart anyone outside of the scope of their influence.

            Micro$oft is a goldfish bowl and needs to remember there is a world outside of it which works without their efforts.

            They aren't going to go away, but they must learn to be more agile. In the IBM world, the phrases were, "beware the dancing elephant" and the reference to a battleship which has to put on the skids for many miles before it can be in a position of turning back.


            Mihi Nomen Est
          • Interesting.

            [i]But I am granted my observations and the right to point out their flaws and my observations, regardless of how critical (they might be).[/i]

            Yes you are entitled to your opinions, however, sighting propaganda websites and purely fictional theories of how Microsoft got so big the way Ole_Man does simply destroys any point they try to make.

            They would be better suited to tone down their over the top accusations and join the real world where Microsoft isn't perfect, but they also aren't hell bent on destroying the world with every decidion they make.

            [i]It's been asserted Micro$oft was going to try to dip a toe into the open source world, but only with particular pieces exposed. I'd liken that to the exits IBM has had in their world of boat anchors[/i]

            Why does this matter so much? There is no law stating that a company must open source their software, or otherwise there are hundreds of companies in violation of that law. Apple being one of the biggest violators, being their OS is based largely on FreeBSD and other open source technology, yet the Mac OS itself is not open source.

            To base your whole argument on Microsofts decidion to do something they didn't actually have to do seems rather... nit picky.

            Be happy they are beginning to work with the OSS community finally, even if they do have to pull teeth to get them to. It's a start. What are you doing to help?
            ShadowGIATL
          • Apologists are a dime a dozen

            While those who mine for the truth are rare.

            I am proud to be a member of the minority. You are welcome to run with the herd. Good luck!
            Ole Man
          • @Old Man

            [i]Apologists are a dime a dozen
            While those who mine for the truth are rare.[/i]

            I have apologized for nothing. And it is the fact that I mine for truth that I find your post in total falsehood. You are nothing more then a petty propagandist.

            [i]I am proud to be a member of the minority. You are welcome to run with the herd. Good luck![/i]

            Actually... I state my own opinions rather then siting dodgy anti-MS sites known for bias. You however, follow the rest of the MS hate groups with your endless, uninformed barrage of unfounded insults, and offer no real eviedence.

            Who is the sheep here? Baaaa.
            ShadowGIATL
          • MS caught in an error, corrects it, tried to give it a positive PR spin.

            Really...... What propaganda site....MS PR department?
            Dose not MJF's blog in a off-hand way confirms it?

            I am sure they (MS) are unhappy about it (using the GPL) and in some future time will probably correct it with code from BSD/LGPL or other open source license. I mean how would it look if they did not respect the licensing terms of others.......

            Anyway Open source is a somewhat vague superset, encompassing many different licenses, rather than just the Free Software's GNU GPL. Some companies, organisations actually try to find some middle ground to meet their needs, (BSD, Mozilla, MIT) some others just use Open source as a market buzzword.

            By the way MS had use BSD network stack for awhile, and the only requirement is basically, they(MS) list it in their Copyright notice.
            LazLong
          • Asinine argumentation

            "There is no law stating that a company must open source their software, or otherwise there are hundreds of companies in violation of that law. Apple being one of the biggest violators, being their OS is based largely on FreeBSD and other open source technology, yet the Mac OS itself is not open source."

            Ok, you're saying that there is no law that mandates using Open Source.

            Then you claim that Apple is one the big violators (of what?) because they use BSD (which does NOT require that changes are published) for OS X.

            So where are you going with this "argumentation"?

            Nowhere, abso-fucking-lutely nowhere, as usual with your pathetic MS apologist arguments...
            EarFix
  • RE: Pigs are flying low: Why Microsoft open-sourced its Linux drivers

    could be worse
    Shelendrea
  • RE: Pigs are flying low: Why Microsoft open-sourced its Linux drivers

    And Microsoft not playing fair is news?
    dheady@...
  • It figures...

    Microsoft did it because they had to... to help themselves.
    Metronome49
    • Corporations have rules...

      You do know the job of a public corporation is to increase shareholder equity, right? If the board and the C level folks do not act in that interest and that interest alone, they are in voilation and can be fined, sued, and imprisoned.

      You can argue that giving away code is somehow good for MS, but I doubt you could make a good case that making Linux better sells more copies of Windows or Office.

      MS is a public Corporation - releasing any code they make money off for free violates the mandate to increase shareholder equity. Doing so is not thing something that comes easily.

      The first and primary job of the corporate board must be to attempt to raise the price of their stock (sell more units, make higher profits - hopefully through better products); secondary to that, MS should be a good citizen of the world.
      Fark
      • Corporations have responsibilities

        beside to their shareholders.

        If a corporation cannot conduct their business in an ethical manner, they should not conduct business in ANY manner. PERIOD.
        Ole Man
        • are you sure?

          You wish (Me too.) Profit is the only thing that matters to these people. Ethics be damned.

          To paraphrase that Om'Armchair dude "The Corporation must die."

          :o)
          Jack-Booted EULA
        • Well...

          that rules out most of them doesn't it.

          One of the biggest, is supported by the government now, along with several others.

          Get used to crooked companies running everything, cause there isn't much you can do about it.

          Now go cry in your corner.
          ShadowGIATL