Microsoft contributes Linux drivers

July 26th, 2009 | by Aaron Tan

Last week, the open source community was abuzz with conversations on Microsoft’s contribution of 20,000 lines of code to the Linux kernel. While some are skeptical over the software giant’s move to get its code into the Linux kernel, others, including Linus Torvalds, welcomed Microsoft’s contribution just like the code from anyone else in the community.

The code, which includes three Linux device drivers, will enhance the performance of the Linux operating system when virtualized on Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V or Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V. On July 20, the code was been submitted by Microsoft to the Linux kernel community for inclusion in the Linux tree.

Before the code gets accepted into the Linux kernel, it needs to be scrutinized by the open source community. Following that, the code will have to be released under the GPL which will make it hard for Microsoft to sue over the patents included in the code if it chooses to in future.

Microsoft has stated its stance in the past with regard to open source. Steve Ballmer once called Linux a “cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches”. Bill Gates alluded that Linux is Microsoft’s most potent operating system competitor.

Does this latest move signal a change of heart from Microsoft with regard to open source? Open source adoption among enterprises has matured and moved beyond the “student and hobbyist market“. The deal with Novell and Port 25 are just strategic initiatives to meet the needs of their customers who are operating heterogeneous IT environments whether Microsoft likes it or not. These moves do not mean that Microsoft is even close to embracing open source. Any indication that it is doing so would significantly change their business model.

What this move indicates is that Microsoft is serious about becoming a big player in the virtualization market that will double in size to reach US$11.7 billion by 2011, even if it has to release driver code under the GPL for the sake of its Hyper-V customers. Surely, this is a win for open source – since that means there’s a big enough installed base of Microsoft customers that use open source software to warrant the release of code under the GPL, which Ballmer once likened to cancer?

There are some open source proponents who will view Microsoft’s code contribution with disdain, or even see the move as blasphemous to the open source movement. Fortunately, enterprises tend to be more level-headed and would appreciate the enhanced performance of Linux on Hyper-V provided by these drivers.

Thankfully, Linus Torvalds thinks otherwise. He believes in open development and not shutting other people and companies out:

“Oh, I’m a big believer in “technology over politics”. I don’t care who it comes from, as long as there are solid reasons for the code, and as long as we don’t have to worry about licensing etc issues.

In fact, to some degree, I’d be more likely to include it because it’s from a new member of the community rather than less (again, I’d like to point out that drivers are special. They don’t impact other things, so they get merged much more easily than some core changes).

I may make jokes about Microsoft at times, but at the same time, I think the Microsoft hatred is a disease. I believe in open development, and that very much involves not just making the source open, but also not shutting other people and companies out.

There are ‘extremists’ in the free software world, but that’s one major reason why I don’t call what I do ‘free software’ any more. I don’t want to be associated with the people for whom it’s about exclusion and hatred.”


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