Feeds

Microsoft opened Linux-driver code after 'violating' GPL

Traded credibility for kudos?

Maximizing your infrastructure through virtualization

Microsoft was in violation of the GPL (General Public License) on the Hyper-V code it released to open source this week.

After Redmond covered itself in glory by opening up the code, it now looks like it may have acted simply to head off any potentially embarrassing legal dispute over violation of the GPL. The rest was theater.

As revealed by Stephen Hemminger - a principal engineer with open-source network vendor Vyatta - a network driver in Microsoft's Hyper-V used open-source components licensed under the GPL and statically linked to binary parts. The GPL does not permit the mixing of closed and open-source elements.

This story emerged after Hemminger congratulated Microsoft on its decision to release the driver to GPL. Microsoft announced the move as part of a release of 20,000 lines of code to the GPL - an open-source license it has historically hated.

Hemminger said he uncovered the apparent violation and contacted Linux Driver Project lead Greg Kroah-Hartman, a Novell programmer, to resolve the problem quietly with Microsoft. Hemminger apparently hoped to leverage Novell's interoperability relationship with Microsoft.

"Since Novell has a (too) close association with Microsoft, my expectation was that Greg could prod the right people to get the issue resolved," Hemminger blogged.

Neither Kroah-Hartman nor Microsoft spoke of a potential problem when announcing the code drop on Monday. Quite the opposite. Microsoft presented its embrace of the GPL as something it had done to help customers reduce the cost of deploying and managing their IT infrastructure through server consolidation, by speeding the performance of Linux on Hyper-V.

Kroah-Hartman appeared to verify Microsoft's GPL violation in an email exchange with All-About-Microsoft blogger Mary-Jo Foley, here.

Microsoft stunned the industry with its decision to embrace GPL. The reaction of Hemminger was typical of many Linux aficionados, who congratulated Microsoft, but others were left puzzled.

Microsoft's decision to release the code will be welcomed by anyone who simply wants Linux to work better with Windows. But if Hemminger and Kroah-Hartman are to be believed, then Microsoft will have done itself no favors whatsoever on the trust front.

The company's done much to mend its relations with the open-source community in recent years. And where it has erred in the past - as when non-open-source code was posted on its CodePlex site - individual staff rather than corporate conspiracy were blamed. When Microsoft had to be reminded of a long-overdue commitment to release the ECMA specs for its C# and the CLI under a royalty free license, charitable partners cited the short-term memory of a big company.

But this time it seems Microsoft didn't just omit certain key, unflattering facts - a move we expect from IT vendors when presenting their version of the news. It went a step further, by positioning the GPLing of the code as something it clearly was not.

Microsoft called it a "break from the ordinary", a "significant milestone," and a "prime example" of customer demand being a "powerful catalyst" for change. In realty, it looks like Microsoft messed up and was doing the right thing - if only to avert an embarrassing legal problem.

We don't know why Microsoft positioned the news as something it was not. Maybe it was because of the strategic and political importance of Hyper-V to the company, the unmissable kudos of embracing GPL and helping Linux on Windows, and how such an act could finally silence doubters.

The combining of open- and closed- code in the Hyper-V driver may well have been a case of individuals not really knowing what they were doing, not understanding the license, or hoping to get away with it. Microsoft wouldn't be unique in this respect: combining open and closed code happens elsewhere.

But that won't matter. Microsoft has more than anybody else to prove in its relationship open source. The episode will "prove" to skeptics Microsoft simply cannot be trusted and that it has things to hide. For others, it demonstrates Microsoft deals with open-source where it helps Microsoft and that acceptance of open-source inside Microsoft is not as widespread as such a milestone announcement would have led us to believe. ®

Reducing security risks from open source software

More from The Register

next story
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
Captain Kirk sets phaser to SLAUGHTER after trying new Facebook app
William Shatner less-than-impressed by Zuck's celebrity-only app
Do YOU work at Microsoft? Um. Are you SURE about that?
Nokia and marketing types first to get the bullet, says report
Microsoft takes on Chromebook with low-cost Windows laptops
Redmond's chief salesman: We're taking 'hard' decisions
Cheer up, Nokia fans. It can start making mobes again in 18 months
The real winner of the Nokia sale is *drumroll* ... Nokia
EU dons gloves, pokes Google's deals with Android mobe makers
El Reg cops a squint at investigatory letters
Chrome browser has been DRAINING PC batteries for YEARS
Google is only now fixing ancient, energy-sapping bug
prev story

Whitepapers

Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.