Microsoft's GPL'd donation

Published Date
27 - Jul - 2009
| Last Updated
27 - Jul - 2009
Microsoft's GPL'd donation

Has Microsoft finally seen the light? Can we expect Windows to be under GPL soon?

No. But it has come as a huge surprise to everyone in the open source community that Microsoft of all companies, which is know for its mistrust and disregard for the open source movement would actually donate code to said community and under the GPL v2 license, nonetheless.

The question on everyone's mind was, why would Microsoft do this? What do they have to gain?

And theories are abound! While some people have stated that this is due to a violation of the GPL by Microsoft, Stephen Hemminger, a leading engineer at Vyatta, an open source network vendor,  stated that the code release is a result of a them finding drivers which contained both closed course and open source components, which would be a violation of the GPL, and that indirectly poking and prodding Microsoft about the issue brought about the code release. So it would seem that is would be more of a legal license obligation than a voluntary effort. In a formal response by Microsoft about this issue, they have stated that it is not so.

As Sam Ramji senior director of platform stratedy states in his blog:
"Microsoft's decision was not based on any perceived obligations tied to the GPLv2 license. For business reasons and for customers, we determined it was beneficial to release the drivers to the kernel community under the GPLv2 license through a process that involved working closely with Greg Kroah-Hartman , who helped us understand the community norms and licensing options surrounding the drivers."

(Greg Kroah-Hartman is a linux kernel developer who works at Novell)

The GPL violation continues to be a popular theory, especially in light of the fact that the above statement doesn't seem like a straight out denial, but more of an effort to dodge the issue.

In any case Microsoft has a lot to gain for the code contribution. The source code is of Linux drivers for Microsoft's Hyper-V virtualization platform. Which would in the best case mean that the drivers are only useful while running Linux as a virtual machine on a Windows platform, and this only serves to make Windows Hyper-V a more attractive virtualization platform.

This is not to say that the code contribution is not significant. It is an important step forward by Microsoft, license controversies aside. Since their driver release they have in fact gone on to make their second GPL donation, in the form of a Microsoft Live Services plug-in for Moodle, a popular educational platform which allows teachers to create websites for their courses, and it would seem that more open source releases are in the offing.

So is Microsoft becoming a lovable teddy bear of the open source community? Or are they just waiting for the right moment to showcase their devil horns?

Linus Torvalds, creator of the kernel for the famous Linux operating system, says that we should take this in a positive sense. The code contribution is a contribution regardless of where it comes from, and is always welcome. He puts it:

"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. 


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."


He also says that every contribution comes in in self-interest, and that no code donation is completely philanthropic. The fact that the their donation of the code helps them is some way does by no means lessen the value of the contribution. In fact while this makes Hyper-V a more viable virtualization host, it also makes Linux a more viable guest OS! With two donations by Microsoft in a short period of time, and seemingly more to come, it is perhaps better to look at the brighter side of things. The rules haven't changed, but things are certainly getting more interesting.