Pigs do fly: Microsoft unleashes 20,000 lines of Linux code

Pigs do fly: Microsoft unleashes 20,000 lines of Linux code

Summary: Nope, that's not a typo in the headline. Microsoft is releasing three Microsoft-developed Linux drivers to the Linux community for possible inclusion in the Linux source tree, the company announced on the opening day of the OSCON open-source conference.


Microsoft is releasing three Microsoft-developed Linux drivers to the Linux community for possible inclusion in the Linux source tree.

This is the first time Microsoft has made Microsoft-developed code available directly to the Linux community. The Redmondians have released various pieces of code under different open-source licenses over the past few years, but this is the first time Microsoft has released Linux code and the first time the company has used the GPL license to release code, I believe. (Anyone know otherwise?) My ZDNet blogging colleague Jason Perlow says Microsoft previously released part of the Linux Integration Components under the GPL, so this isn't technically the first-ever GPL'd code from the Softies.

Microsoft made the Linux driver announcement on July 20, the opening day of the O'Reilly OSCON open-source conference.

(The driver news also comes a week after Microsoft Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner told Microsoft reseller partners that Microsoft has competed really well against “the fraudulent perception of free" that is at the core of many  Linux vendors' sales pitches. Not all of Microsoft management is onboard with this newfangled licensing world....)

Microsoft is touting today's release of 20,000 lines of code -- which it is putting under the GNU General Public License v2 (not GPL v3) licensing agreement -- as part of Redmond's commitment to improving the integration of Windows and Linux.

With today's announcement, Microsoft becomes one of many companies contributing code to the central Linux kernel committee. Back in 2008, the Linux Foundation said there were nearly 1,000 developers "representing well over 100 corporations" contributing pieces of code that were part of the kernel."  Currently, the top five named contributors to the Linux core are Red Hat, Intel, Novell, IBM and Oracle.

Unlike the case with Windows, Linux drivers are considered part of the operating-system kernel. As the Linux Foundation explains on its Web site: "The Linux model is that IHVs (independent hardware vendors) get the source code for their driver accepted into the mainline kernel....Having hardware reliably supported by Linux" requires this. It's unclear whether Microsoft's drivers, though submitted by a software vendor, and not an IHV, will be subject to the same process for approval.

(An aside: The Linux Driver Project lead is Greg Kroah-Hartman a programmer with Novell. Remember, Microsoft has a three-year-old and rather controversial  patent/interoperability relationship with Novell.)

Microsoft's Linux drivers were developed largely by members of Microsoft’s Open Source Technology Center (OSTC) team, which has developed expertise in Linux, Unix and open-source technologies.

Tom Hanrahan, the head of the OSTC, is quoted on Microsoft's press site as explaining the purpose of the drivers this way:

"Our initial goal in developing the (Linux driver) code was to enable Linux to run as a virtual machine on top of Hyper-V, Microsoft’s hypervisor and implementation of virtualization.

"The Linux device drivers we are releasing are designed so Linux can run in enlightened mode, giving it the same optimized synthetic devices as a Windows virtual machine running on top of Hyper-V. Without this driver code, Linux can run on top of Windows, but without the same high performance levels. We worked very closely with the Hyper-V team at Microsoft to make that happen."

(I'm not sure how much of the newly released Microsoft code is a repackaging and/or update of what it has been calling the Linux Integration Components for Hyper-V. I'll ask and update this post accordingly.)

Hanrahan also played up the consolidation message in explaining Microsoft's motivation for releasing the Linux driver code:

"Customers have told us that they would like to standardize on one virtualization platform, and the Linux device drivers will help customers who are running Linux to consolidate their Linux and Windows servers on a single virtualization platform, thereby reducing the complexity of their infrastructure."

I have lots of questions about this announcement and will be updating this post once I have a chance to talk to Microsoft officials. If you have questions, chime in and I'll try to get answers on those, too...

Meanwhile: What's your take? Is today's announcement more than just Microsoft dipping a toe in the GPL waters?

Update: Make sure not to miss Part 2 of this tale, where the pigs are flying low.... The plot thickens and Microsoft's motives for GPL'ing the drivers are looking a little suspect.

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


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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    Windows Services for UNIX has some GPL utilities in it: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/321712
    Larry Seltzer
    • We Know EXACTLY 'Why This Largess?': MS Self Interest

      If you think MS is doing this because they are softening to OSS you're still a chump. Of course MS is doing this for their own benefit.

      MS wants their OS to run as fast as possible under virtualization!!

      That's it. No charity here.
      Seamus O'Brog
      • Of course MS is doing it for MS benefit

        Anyone running a business would do the same thing and if you say you wouldn't your a liar.
    • Beware of Microsoft! They probably have something in the code that hurts!

      Microsoft WANTS to invalidate the GPL. Beware! Scan the code and ensure they didn't do something that will take over your rights!

      DO NOT GIVE ANYTHING TO A COMPANY THAT WANTS TO TAKE EVERYTHING! I mean, come on. The WORLD has become their free beta testing site. I may be a cynic but I believe Microsoft is doing this for THEIR benefit. Not for the OPEN Source communities benefit (hey, I use Mac, not Linux). PUKE all things Microsoft! I implore you!

      Microsoft! The danger is Real! The Danger is Microsoft!
      No More Microsoft Software Ever!
      • MS self interest, absolutely

        You are so right about there self serving ... but , most for profit
        corporations are. Yrh real point is just waht is being raised and that is
        HOW and WHY?

        I sort of suspect this is a further indication of their Apple offense ..
        after all OS X is Linux based so the moe they can get those interested
        in that approach to avoid the Mac and use a PC with Linux (and it is a
        good alternate) the less the desire for a GOOD operating system, read
        any thing but Visa or Windows.

        I also switched to the Mac when I retired and now with two of them
        am happier than I have ever been since my first IBM 286. What a
        charge that was .. for a couple of months!

        • Please repost after you have sobered up.

          Mac and Apple RULES!
          No More Microsoft Software Ever!
        • XNU Not Linux?

          Mac OS X isn't Linux based.... XNU is composed primarily of FreeBSD and Mach.
          • Based on FreeBSD, but not compatible

            FYI, just because OS X is based on FreeBSD, that doesn't make it
            compatible. Apple has changed several fundamental things.

            That's why we don't say "runs on" we say "based on".

            FreeBSD is a *nix OS, meaning it's like Unix, Linux, etc (there are many
            more). Again, there are some pretty big fundamental differences.

            Don't get me wrong, there are some some pretty big fundamental
            similarities too, so a lot of software for one might work on the others,
            but it's not guaranteed.

            The big advantage is that it takes a lot less work to port from one *nix
            to another than it does to/from Windows and Classic Mac OS (and there
            are lots of other non *nix OSes too).
      • Microsoft Is Gathering Ammo.

        Don't forget Microsoft has an Anti-Trust hearing up & coming, after 5 year probation stint!
        3JG Productions Network
      • a company that wants to take over everything...

        You have just described Apple far more accurately than Microsoft. I guess you don't care about having to buy all of your hardware at the apple store.
        • Uh, no

          Apple's OSX works fine with UNIX LDAP and does not "work better" (for example faster file transfers) when attached to an Apple server, it works using open standards. Apple wants to compete in it's area of strength, but does not aspire to own the entire datacentre. Can you say the same about Microsoft?
      • If I read the article right....

        If I read the article right, Microsoft says users want ONE virtualization PLATFORM - and they want that platform to be Windows. If they don't fix it so Linux will run on it, they haven't a chance in h*ll of that happening. They want it to APPEAR they are saying "see how nice we are, we're fixing it so Linux will run on Windows" when what they are really saying is "we will let Linux run on Windows because we want to be THE OS platform and once we get Windows as the base on virtually every machine and have you hooked, THEN we can cripple the Linux implementation, when you are stuck with us."

        Of course, all businesses want you to like and buy their products. It's just that SOME are honest and ethical and do it by building BETTER products, while SOME are dishonest and unethical and do it by trying to trick you and reduce your choices by killing competition from choices that make better products, rather than competing by making a better product themselves. They try to "frame" the discussion and "spin" the information, rather than just present you with a better product in an honest manner.

      • Please, go away with that sort of comment

        Microsoft is a company, they make money. They also happen to be the most popular operating system. Some may view this as a monopoly. Or even as, "Microsoft trying to take over the world!!!". This is a invalid view. Microsoft is not an evil company, doesnt matter how much you think it is.

        Now, let me ask you something? If a company(i mean ANY company, (drink, food, movies, offices, etc) what are they ESSENTIALLY trying to do? Make money. How do they do this? Sell products/services. Now, Microsoft is particurly good at selling their products and services, mostly because from the start, and at the current moment, they allow any system to run Windows. Now, lets look at Apple, they only allow Apple Certified hardware..... Aka, only Apple made hardware. This hurts everyone..... So in this case, i would say "Apple" was more evil than "Microsoft".
        But, would you have said that about Apple? No. Why? Because they are seen as the "little guy" in the OS game. If it was the other way around, you would be saying the same thing about Apple.

        What Microsoft is doing with this isnt 100% open source freedom type of strategy. Its actually to increase sales (as it increases user base, if you have Linux clients they can still use Microsoft Servers), but also to make IT professionals have an easier time, because remember, the people that work their, are IT professionals to..... People make tools to make other peoples lives easier. Thats essentially computers....

        So please, stop having such a strong POINTLESS negative view of despise. Its like racism, it sickens me.

        PS: Also the fact that they released Windows 7 Beta and Windows 7 RC for free, is a pretty good sign of faith.

        Mattisdada- Linux User, Windows User, Computer user.
        • Nobody's view is an "invalid" view

          Luckily for you and many of your accomplices, even an idiot's view is valid, regardless of whether he loves Microsoft or hates Microsoft, or remains neutral on the subject.

          Do not try to squelch freedom of speech.
          Ole Man
        • M$ IS evil

          In fact M$ can quite easily be defined evil. Sure, they are in it for money, that's not the crime.
          The thing is that they have been using very shady, dirty and sometimes even illegal tactics to achieve and keep market domination. I think that even such common practices as using dominant position on market to create vendor lock-in is an evil business tactis - and nobody can claim that it has only negative effect on users. They have slowed down development when creating better software/functionality was not viewed as necessary by them to maintain market leadership (development of IE was very slow for many years even though technically the browser had been inferior to competing browsers for long time but they were not big enough threat for IE, they have propably the only modern OS today that by default has file system so prehistoric that it suffers from filesystem fragmentation, etc.) and they tend to get serious only when their market share is threatened (when vista failed miserably and linux came to netbooks M$ suddenly managed to work out Windows 7 so quickly to evolve in larger steps than Windows had managed in several past years alltogether).

          Microsoft is not in fact interested at all in doing something because it will make end users life easier - by looking what they have done (and when/why) it was unavoidable coclusion that they are interested in developing their systems to be friendly enough for end users to keep using it and unless their market position is threatened by competing products on some area the development will turn very slow (view the history of development around Linux or OS X for example to see some difference, that is to see the speed that software made for end users *should* evolve).

          And I have not much good to say about apple either, I'm not a huge fan of them and I don't like how they tie OS X with hardware, but at least they have good OS that seems to me to be honestly made to make end users life easyer, not just to make end users happy enough to move away (and to prevent such moving by creating vendor lock-in wherever possible).
    • This is their response to Google Chrome OS

      Google Chrome OS uses a Unix base. By releasing their code they have just assured that their drivers will be available in Google Chrome. Now when they developm thigns for the Chrome OS they have a easier means to access it.
      • Google Chrome OS is not using a Unix code base

        It's simply another Linux Distro, likely catered to work with google desktop, and maybe the google browser, and likely including google gadgets. I haven't seen a place to download it (pretty sure it hasn't been released yet). I'm sure it will likely even have desktop shortcuts to use their web apps as well...really I don't see it being all that different than GObuntu or whatever that was...

        • Chrome OS is Vaporware! (it WILL BE running *nix)

          Linux Distro's are all *nix. Many folks don't understand that Unix is a
          specific OS, so they use it as a general term for any "Unix like" OS.
          Those who know, say *nix to make it clear that it's not the actual UNIX

          Chrome OS is a secret. Nobody has access outside of Google.
          Anything you've heard about it at this point is very vague (from
          Google), or speculation (from tons of sources who don't have anything
          better to talk about).

          The one exciting point about Google's announcement is that it's not
          going to use X11 for managing the windowing environment. That's the
          same exciting point Apple made with the original OS X. The difference
          here is that Google is stating that they will Open Source their new
          Windowing code.

          Linux may finally get a replacement for X11, assuming Google's
          Windowing code is actually better.

          Chrome OS may not have a start menu, or task bar, or any other
          "familiar" interface. It could be as different as the iPhone OS (notice I
          didn't say like it, just "as different as").
    • device drivers

      anyone can write drivers for their products and services, this has been done all over the world, so I think this is not so special for MS at all...even if they are not included in the main kernel distribution, they can host those files in their own MS website and let their customers install these files themselves...
      (BTW, I don't know Baller can really fly?)
  • VMWARE Lower TCO, Higher Reliability

    Smart shops will skip virtualization from MS - garbage
    at its best. Resume generating event at its worst.