James O'Neill's Blog

July 23, 2009

Oink flap –– Microsoft releases software under GPL — oink Flap

Mary-Jo has a post about the release of our Hyper-V drivers for Linux entitled Pigs are flying low: Why Microsoft open-sourced its Linux drivers , it’s one of many out there but the title caught my eye: I thought I’d give a little of my perspective on this unusual release. News of it reached me through one of those “go ahead and share this” mails earlier this week  which began

NEWSFLASH: Microsoft contributes code to the Linux kernel under GPL v2.
Read it again – Microsoft contributes code to the Linux kernel under GPL v2!
Today is a day that will forever be remembered at Microsoft.

Well indeed… but hang on just a moment: we’re supposed to “hate” the GPL aren’t we ? And we’re not exactly big supporters of Linux … are we ? So what gives ? Let’s get the GPL thing out of the way first:

For as long as I can remember I’ve thought (and so has Microsoft) that whoever writes a book, or piece of software or paints a picture or takes a photo should have the absolute right decide its fate.  [Though the responsibilities that come with a  large share of an important market apply various IFs and BUTs to this principle]. Here in the UK the that’s what comes through in the Copyrights Designs and Patents Act, and I frequently find myself explaining to photographers that the act tilts things in their favour far more than they expect. Having created a work, you get the choice whether to sell it, give it away, publish the Source code , whatever. The GPL breaks that principle, by saying, in effect “if you take what I have given away, and build something around it, you must give your work away too and force others to give their work away ad infinitum”; it requires an author of a derivative work to surrender rights they would normally have. The GPL community would typically say don’t create derivative works based on theirs if you want those rights. Some in that community – it’s hard to know how many because they are its noisiest members -  argue for a world where there is no concept of intellectual property (would they argue you could come into my garden and take the vegetables that stem from my physical work ? Because they do argue that you can just take the product of my mental work). Others argue for very short protection under copyright and patent laws: ironically a licence (including the GPL) only applies for the term of copyright, after that others can incorporate a work into something which is treated as wholly their own. However we should be clear that GPL and Open Source are not synonyms (Mary Jo, wasn’t in her title) . Open source is one perfectly valid way for people to distribute their works – we want Open Source developers to write for Windows and as I like to point out to people this little project here  means I am an Open Source Developer and proud of it. However I don’t interfere with the rights of others who re-use my code,  because it goes out under the Microsoft Public Licence: some may think it ironic that is the Microsoft licence which gives people freedom and those who make most noise about “free software” push a licence that constrains people.

What are we doing ? We have released the Linux Integration Components for Hyper-V under a GPL v2 license, and the synthetic drivers have been submitted to the Linux kernel community for inclusion in upcoming versions of the Linux kernel.  The code is being integrated into the Linux kernel tree via the  Linux Driver Project which is a team of Linux developers that develops and maintains drivers in the Linux kernel. We worked very closely with Greg Kroah-Hartman to integrate our Linux IC’s into the Linux kernel. We will continue to develop the Integration components and as we do we will contribute the code to the drivers that are part of the kernel.
What is the result ? The drivers will be available to anyone running an appropriate Linux kernel. And we hope that various Linux distributions will make them available to their customers through their releases. 
WHY ? It’s very simple. Every vendor would like their share of the market to come from customers who used only their technology; no interoperability would be be needed: but in the real world, real customers run a mixture. Making the Linux side of those customers lives unnecessarily awkward just makes them miserable without getting more sales for Microsoft. Regulators will say that if you make life tough enough, it will get you more sales, but interoperability is not driven by some high minded ideal – unless you count customer satisfaction, which to my way of thinking is just good business sense. Accepting that customers aren’t exclusive makes it easier for them to put a greater proportion of their business your way. So: we are committed to making Hyper-V the virtualization platform of choice, that means working to give a good experience with Linux workloads. We’d prefer that to happen all by itself, but it won’t: we need to do work to ensure it happens.  We haven’t become fans of the GPL: everything I wrote above about the GPL still holds. Using it for one piece of software is the price of admission to the distributions we need to be in, in order to deliver that good experience. Well… so be it.  Or put another way, the principle of helping customers to do more business with you trumps other principles.
Does this mean we are supporting all Linux distributions ? Today we distribute Integration components for SLES 10 SP2. Our next release will add support for SLES 11 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux (5.2 and 5.3). If you want to split hairs we don’t “support” SLES or RHEL – but we have support arrangements with Red Hat and Novell to allow customers to be supported seamlessly. The reason for being pedantic about that point is that a customer’s ability to open a support case with Microsoft over something which involves something written by someone else depends on those arrangements being in place. It’s impossible to say which vendors we’ll have agreements with in future (if we said who we negotiating with it would have all kinds of knock on effects, so those discussions aren’t even disclosed inside the companies involved). Where we haven’t arranged support with a vendor we can only give limited advice from first principles about their product, so outside of generic problems which would apply to any OS, customers will still need to work with the vendors of those distributions for support.

You can read the press release or watch the Channel 9 Video for more information.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

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