Is Microsoft's GPL2 support really a big deal?

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.
Written by Paula Rooney, Contributor

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?

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