Was Microsoft's Open Source Hand Forced? - InformationWeek

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7/24/2009
10:51 AM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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Was Microsoft's Open Source Hand Forced?

The saga of Microsoft's contributions to the kernel just took another curious step. A key engineer with open source network-infrastructure company Vyatta indicated that Microsoft had no choice but to post the drivers as GPL. The implication is that they wouldn't have if no one had pointed it out to them.

The saga of Microsoft's contributions to the kernel just took another curious step. A key engineer with open source network-infrastructure company Vyatta indicated that Microsoft had no choice but to post the drivers as GPL. The implication is that they wouldn't have if no one had pointed it out to them.

The blog post, by "Linux Network Plumber" Stephen Hemminger, indicates that the original drivers were not GPL-compatible. They linked to statically-compiled, closed-source binaries through a kernel interface that was tagged in such a way that they should only be used by GPL-compatible (open source) modules. Dismayed, Stephen passed word back to Greg Kroah-Hartmann of Novell, who in turn passed word on to Microsoft. The source code for the whole driver set was released four months later.

This has sparked a whole slew of speculation on whether or not Microsoft was testing the water to see what they could get away with. If nobody asked them to release the Hyper-V drivers as GPL, the thinking goes, would they have done so? Greg thought so, and said as much elsewhere. But when confronted with the fact that there are indeed many eyes on the situation, they did the right thing -- or, at the very least, the smart thing.

Perhaps they had always intended to release the whole thing as an open package, and were simply trying to get the timing right. The announcement was made more or less on top of OSCON this week -- along with some other open source related announcements from Microsoft, so perhaps once the ball got rolling internally to do this, they decided to simply talk about all of it at once. This sounds like a very Microsoftian thing to do, since it presents more of a feeling that the company is working in a single unified fashion (something they clearly pride themselves on).

What I think is most crucial here is that they responded to a diplomatic, reasonable request from the Linux community that they could just as easily tapdanced around / stalled /blustered over / you name it. That's a fairly major sign of progress. There's no doubt that Microsoft is still in the open source game for themselves, but a) who isn't? and b) if they play by the rules as far as their involvement goes, what more could be asked?

Oil tankers don't turn on a time, and any company that makes its bread with a proprietary product roster isn't going to snap its fingers and open all the books at once. But it's fascinating to watch them add open source creations of one kind or another to their roster. If any company is a case study in the move from closed to open, Microsoft is it.

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