Microsoft and the GPL

Microsoft recently released several paravirtualization drivers under the GPL (version 2).  People are making way too big of a deal about this.  (I suppose that’s to be expected from “Linux Magazine”).  There are two primary reasons that Microsoft chose the GPL:  maintenance of their own code, and proliferation.  This is not an attack on Linux.  This is not a trick on the GPL.  This is not Microsoft experimenting with Linux.  This is not a patch to the Linux kernel.  (“Linux Magazine”, indeed).  Modules are not the kernel proper, people!  My nVidia driver is no more “a kernel patch” than are Microsoft’s paravirt drivers.  The difference is that Microsoft’s drivers will ship with the overall kernel tree and get built with it, but so do drivers for arcane capture cards from 1994.

This is a practical move given the realities of how Linux is structured and distributed, and it’s comical (if not annoying) to see people who are supposedly Linux advocates completely misunderstand and mischaracterize what’s going on.  Look, the way the Linux kernel is structured, almost all useful APIs are exported ONLY to GPL-declared code.  That means if Microsoft was to declare its module as any other license, it could not use a ton of high-level APIs, including basic stuff like, say, the entire devfs API or any of the IOMMU APIs. There are numerous other examples.  This means that Microsoft would be forced to implement their own versions of these APIs, based on low-level constructs in the kernel that are subject to frequent change.  This is a maintenance nightmare, and Microsoft would have to be insane to pursue this strategy.

The other major reason to use the GPL for their drivers is that, without it, Microsoft’s drivers won’t ship with the base Linux kernel + drivers distribution.  Microsoft wants to get these drivers out to as many people as possible so that Hyper-V’s paravirtualized features “just work” with as many Linux installations as possible.  This move by them increases those odds, so it’s a smart business decision.  It’s no different than Intel wanting their drivers to ship with the kernel.

I understand that Linux enthusiasts are (justifiably) leery of Microsoft, but making up crazy theories does not exactly make you look like a rational, reasoned critic.  Rather, it makes it easier for Microsoft to publicly discount any and all claims that the Linux community may ever have regarding Microsoft’s tactics, because they can point to previous nutty behavior.  Acting “shocked” that Microsoft would pursue its business interests is the juvenile equivalent of rolling one’s eyes.  And, claiming (even in jest) that this is a first step to Microsoft using a Linux kernel inside a Microsoft product does, indeed, count as nutty.  I’m reading this crap all over the Internet — it’s not funny, it’s not clever, and it makes OSS people look like idiots.

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