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MSFT and GPL: toe in the water July 21, 2009

Posted by Sacha in IT.

Paula Rooney from ZDNet is wondering whether “Microsoft’s GPL2 supprt [is] really a big deal”? That’s following MSFT’s announcement that they’ve released three of their device drivers under the GPL. And that’s a great question to ask, thank’s Paula.

Quick answer: i) it is for the next.gen OS wave, but ii) it is currently a non-event from a pure FOSS standpoint.

First, it is a an important point in history for Operating Systems since it permits much greater “intra”-OS interoperability for virtualized environments. As previously discussed, intra-OS adaptability is a new kind of the good-old ISV/IHV setup: OS vendors must make sure i) the other OSes they could host in a virtual machine behave properly and efficiently (ISV++) and ii) they run properly on somebody else’s Operating Systems embedded in a virtual machine (IHV++). And the second part was usually the hard one to get from OS vendors, especially MSFT: during a long long time, MSFT would only support their OS on a well-defined hardware architecture, and refuse any bug report is their OS was run on top of an hypervisor. Consequently, having MSFT release these device drivers in the open source is essential since it allows other OSes to efficiently run Windows on top of their own hypervisor. Now, on the choice of the GPL, this means that MSFT understands the need to treat Linux as a first-class OS citizen (and also sends a much less nice message to the *-BSD OS community). So, where do we go from there? Well, any Linux distribution now has the opportunity to efficiently run Windows, and not just the ones willing to compromise with their FOSS-roots, I certainly see this as an inflection point in the NOVL-MSFT love affair.

Secondly, from an overall FOSS standpoint, I don’t think this is (yet) MSFT’s strategic move away from “the big divide“. MSFT has certainly not taken the strategic decision to live in (or at least be compatible with) the FSF-world. Instead, this is clearly a tactical move to solve that very specific virtualization-interop issue, nothing more. We’ll yet have to wait to see MSFT truly embrace the Linux community (today, MSFT’s tiny OSS software assets are still not able to be mixed in the FSF code ocean).

Quite frankly, looking at MSFT revenues, I am not sure MSFT has to embrace the FOSS movement any further at this point, so I don’t have much expectations to see them join the FSF code ocean. On the other hand, I see very positively the very specific tactical move they did to further enable the next.gen of OSes, that’ is something the IT industry needs NOW.





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