“Donating” Code

I am a bit pressed for time but just need to address a particular topic that is hitting the headlines right now, and for good reasons.

Microsoft has released some code; that is not news. What is news is that the licence used is GPLv2 and that this code is for drivers intended to run with the Linux kernel. So has the sky fallen in? Has Bill Gates’ company decided that “Communism” and “anti-Americanism” are the true path to lightness of being after all?

Well, no. It appears to be a bit grubbier than that. Whilst all parties involved in this deal are falling over themselves to be nice to each other there are a few clues emerging as to the truth behind this particular release.

Greg Kroah-Hartman who works for Novell put together the deal. His blog entry links to another Linux hacker’s blog which has some far more interesting titbits.  Read the blog and you see he says things like:

“a lot of work was done behind the scenes to get the offending company into compliance.”


“A little googling found the necessary drivers, but on closer examination there was a problem. The driver had both open-source components which were under GPL, and statically linked to several binary parts. The GPL does not permit mixing of closed and open source parts, so this was an obvious violation of the license”


“Rather than creating noise, my goal was to resolve the problem, so I turned to Greg Kroah-Hartman.”

So, if my reasoning is correct, and I am very happy to be corrected, this is what seems to be the order of events:

  1. MS wants Linux to run on its Hyper-V platform.
  2. They develop and release drivers that use some GPL code and link to static GPL binaries. I don’t know where that original GPL code came from but it sure would be interesting to find out.
  3. These drivers are in breach of the GPL and a third party notices.
  4. MS are forced, nicely, to comply with the GPL, just like every other organisation whose GPL breaches have been seriously challenged.

So, whilst this is all good and marvellous, especially if you want to run Linux on Windows (keep this other factlet in mind), Microsoft has shaken money out of at least 500 organisations including Linux distributors, claiming IP rights over code they have not written because of patents they refuse to identify in public.

This is an interesting story, but not in the way it is being told.  Celebrate because we can chalk it up as a success… to the GPL.

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