Is Microsoft's GPL2 support really a big deal?

Is Microsoft's GPL2 support really a big deal?

Summary: Microsoft's decison to release 20,000 lines of device driver code under GPLv2 is viewed as a big deal but not that surprising given the context.After all, the only technology Microsoft fears more than Linux is VMware's bare-metal virtualization platform.

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Microsoft's decison to release 20,000 lines of device driver code under GPLv2 is viewed as a big deal but not that surprising given the context.

After all, the only technology Microsoft fears more than Linux is VMware's bare-metal virtualization platform. The release of the three device drivers under GPL2 this week -- which will better allow application workloads running in Linux virtual machines on Windows to access storage devices-- is designed for one reason and one reason only: to advance Microsoft's Hyper-V hypervisor.

The code,  also known as the Linux Integration Components, has been deployed for some time in Novell's SUSE Linux 10 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.X. following agreements Microsoft signed with the two leading Linux companies.

The announcement this week -- Microsoft's first support of the GPL2 -- will more widely release the code under the leading open source license so that other Linux distributors and potentially Linux itself can incorporate these device drivers, which offer support for iSCSI and network storage devices.

Microsoft's director of open source said today's announcement is a big step for Windows-Linux interoperability. It is -- but it is only for  Linux Virtual Machines on Windows, not physical Linux servers and Linux desktops.

"It's relevant because applications in a hypervisor need local storage, networked storage and RPC calls," said Sam Ramji, senior director of Platform Strategy at Microsoft, who has worked with JBoss, Apache, Spikesource, Zend PHP and Novell in an effort to move Microsoft closer to the open source community.

The company issued this statement to the press that acknowledged this fact.

Why open source the code?

"Because this is a requirement of the community, and critical in ensuring that as the Linux Kernel evolves, and as Hyper-V evolves, that the Hyper-V Linux Device Drivers evolve as well."

Greg Kroah-Hartman, of Novell's SUSE Labs, who leads the Linux kernel.org's device driver project, said it's a big deal because Microsoft endorsed the GPLv2 as a valid license, and the valid license for Linux. And he has Microsoft assurances that the company will continue to contribute to the code.

"On one hand, this is no different from any other company that I have worked with through the driver project. We are averaging about 2 new companies a month right now, working with them to get their code cleaned up and merged into the Linux kernel tree," Kroah-Hartman wrote about the deal. " Stuff like this happens all the time with new companies becoming part of the Linux kernel community every day. But on the other hand, this is Microsoft, so it is a big deal."

Microsoft's endorsement of the GPL is viewed a big deal because it is the first time the proprietary software company -- or at least one part of the mothership -- has backed it as a credible software license.

But did the Linux community really need this backing from Microsoft?

No, not at this point in the game.

The Linux Network Plumber was pleased to post his take on the origin of the problem and how the ball got rolling. And yes, he did "congratulate" Microsoft.

"Nice. Microsoft has released the Hyper-V drivers as GPLv2. I know was a hard step for Microsoft to take, since it means acknowledging GPL and respecting the Linux community. The releasing of the drivers is good news for users, developers, and in the end Microsoft as well. Like most GPL related actions, a lot of work was done behind the scenes to get the offending company into compliance," he wrote in his blog yesterday.

"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. Rather than creating noise, my goal was to resolve the problem, so I turned to Greg Kroah-Hartman," he wrote. "Since Novell has a (too) close association with Microsoft, my expectation was that Greg could prod the right people to get the issue resolved.

"It took longer than expected, but finally Microsoft decided to do the right thing and release the drivers."

Getting the Microsoft higher ups to sign off on this was a big deal, no doubt. But don't get crazy. I would not expect to see Microsoft release much if any significant IP to the GPLv2 for a long time to come. But that's just me.

Do you think it's a big deal? will it accelerate Linux development and adoption? Why?

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

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32 comments
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  • Doesn't this prove that MS patent claims against Linux were a scam?

    If it really violated their patents, why would they release code for it?
    T1Oracle
    • Doesn't this prove that MS patent claims against Linux were a scam?

      Why? Because it's business. They are a for profit entity and releasing the code will generate additional revenue. Says nothing about the patent claims.
      midcapwarrior
    • Well it sounds like MS was in violation in the beginning

      Quote: [i]?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...[/i]

      That could have been a bit of a PR nightmare after all the MS sabre rattling about FOSS stealing from MS and it turns out to be the opposite. I'm sure with enough digging many instances of proprietary software borrowing from FOSS will surface... Well actually they have, haven't they.
      awasson1
      • RE: Is Microsoft's GPL2 support really a big deal?

        The driver had both open-source components which were under GPL, and statically linked to several binary parts.<a href="http://ipadbagblog.com/"><font color="LightGrey"> k</font></a>
        zakkiromi
  • RE: Is Microsoft's GPL2 support really a big deal?

    Microsoft is simply acknowledging that which most "pundits" such as Ms Rooney won't: that Linux is a key player and must be supported for a software company to be successful. At this point, the only significant outfit that has not made a contribution to Linux is Apple, they remain as committed to their "not invented here" philosophy as ever. That said, VMWare still has some very substantial advantages over Microsoft Hyper-V in the virtualization space: they support Linux as a host platform. The vast majority of virtualization these days happens on Linux hosts and if Microsoft wants to succeed in dominating the virtualization space, they are going to need to counter this advantage directly.
    ZDnet Reader 43
    • Do note

      that this implies that MS acknowledges only the need to support Linux on the server level. It remains committed as ever to ignore Linux on the desktop, laptop, netbook, smart phone, PDA, etc. as Apple does.
      Michael Kelly
      • Do note

        " It remains committed as ever to ignore Linux on the desktop, laptop, netbook, smart phone, PDA, etc. as Apple does."
        And 95% of the desktop user community.
        midcapwarrior
      • This is not about MS supporting Linux...

        ...but about MS adding drivers to Linux so Linux
        can support Hyper-V. That's as big as this deal
        gets.

        That they GPLed the code is realpolitik; it
        would not have been accepted as a contribution
        otherwise. Even confirmed sociopaths don't
        routinely run red lights or drive on the wrong
        side of the road.
        TriangleDoor
    • Hyper-V

      Please list the major disadvantages you claim Hyper-V has vs. VMWare.

      Two points:

      1) Frankly, I think you'll find that most corporate IT admins would be FAR more familiar with administrating a Windows Server 2008 machine hosting several Hyper-V VM's than doing the same hosted on Linux.

      2) If you're THAT worried about host footprint, Windows Server 2008 Core edition is a minimal, non-GUI OS installation that supports AD, DHCP/DNS, Hyper-V, etc. and significantly reduces the cost of maintenance of the host.
      de-void-21165590650301806002836337787023
      • re: Hyper-V

        <font color=#808080><em>1) ...IT admins would be FAR more familiar with administrating a Windows Server 2008...

        2)...Windows Server 2008 Core edition is a minimal, non-GUI OS installation...</em></font>

        Doesn't number two nullify number one?

        ^o^
        <br>
        n0neXn0ne
        • Why would it?

          He never claimed you'd manage the core server locally. Technically you could manage 98% of the server from another computer.

          Windows Server 2008 was released featuring modularized features - The core system has nothing added to slow it down, basically a barebones server. You can add to it later.
          TylerM89
  • In the last part of The Screwtape Letters, ...

    ... by C.S. Lewis, Wormwood, the nephew, asks if he can count on the support of his Uncle Screwtape even though he has failed and let their quarry escape to Heaven.

    Screwtape answers that his nephew may expect just as much assistance from his "increasingly and ravenously affectionate" uncle as Screwtape would expect from Wormwood were their situations reversed.

    Screwtape = Microsoft
    Wormwood = The Linux Foundation
    OButterball
    • Found the thinnest book in the library, did you?

      Bad analogy: Screwtape was a devil offering advise to his incompetent nephew, who ultimately fails to bring back a soul and faces being devoured by Screwtape.

      Now, if you cast Novel or Redhat as Wormwood and Microsoft as, of course, Screwtape, I could see a correlation.
      softwareFlunky
  • Somebody is not thinking, here (and it aint me)

    Linux has already proven itself superior, on the virtualization as well as all other fronts. "Users" are leaving Microsoft like rats jumping a sinking ship. Now why would Microsoft "lend" any kind of "help" to Linux? Hmmmmmmm?

    Don't answer that! You will be attacked from all quarters if you do. You might even be assimilated (which is what Microsoft intends to do to Linux).
    Ole Man
    • What planet are you on?

      MS customers are leaving in droves? Really? Where?

      Not just your opinion or examples of how your Mum chose to buy one of those pretty Apples she's seen on TV, I mean examples of very singificant migration away from Windows.

      FWIW, you DO know that Linux owned 100% of the netbook market until vendors started offering Windows on their devices, right? And you DO know that Linux promptly lost 95% of said netbook market in the year following Windows' introduction on netbooks?

      You do know that on the desktop, Apple has indeed picked up some market share, but those were primarily new sales (students getting their own laptops), not mass defections.

      And you do realize that there are now two examples of OS' that customers would rather pay for than adopt a "free" OS like Linux?

      If Linux works for you, then great. But don't assume that it'll work for the other 95% of the PC using market.
      de-void-21165590650301806002836337787023
      • What planet are you on?

        It sounds like you got it all figured out.

        And why is Microsoft wasting their time GPLing code again? Does it have anything to do with Linux?

        Don't they have some zero day exploit to attend to?

        ^o^
        <br>
        n0neXn0ne
        • Already answered

          They GPL'd code to offer better support for virtualized linux servers running on Windows Server/Hyper-V. They had to GPL the code for it to be submitted to the kernel.
          TylerM89
      • Leaving out salient facts...

        1) 95% of what market? Why, that would be 95% of the US retail (brick & mortar) market. Not the world. Not including online sales.

        2) The netbook market has soared. Your statements infer that 95% lost marketshare translates to 95% less total sold. That ain't true.

        While Linux has lost marketshare, the total numbers aren't nearly as bad as you imply. Microsoft did some arm-twisting of Acer and other suppliers, both resurrecting XP from retirement at $3/copy and implying it's "marketing incentives" would dry up if vendors continued to ship Linux versions.
        NetArch.
        • Well there was also the return rate problem.

          Since users of the Linux Netbooks were 8 time more likely to return them than the Windows Netbooks, it's doubtful that much arm twisting was really required.

          Still, this topic is about Linux in the server setting, and while the penguin still has no traction in desktops and laptops, it performs a lot better in the server setting. Or maybe Servers are where Linux finds users who can appreciate it.

          Whatever the case, that's the reason MS made this contribution, because Linux is a significant player in this area, and thus Hyper-V needs to play well with it to really sell itself in the area.
          brendan9
    • Wow

      "superiror"? Really? You may think it's superior, but how superior can it be if 95% of the users out there can't figure it out or have never heard of it? 98% of the non-geek people I know, don't even know what Linux is and those that have heard of it, never used it before.

      Linux may be a slim and fast server solution, but as a Windows desktop replacement, it has a long way to go.

      If you RTFA, you'd know they aren't helping Linux, they are adding support for their customers who run Linux servers using Hyper-V (With the host being Windows Server).
      TylerM89