Microsoft: GPL Linux code release not due to violation

Microsoft executive Sam Ramji denies there was any obligation to release Hyper-V Linux drivers under the license

Microsoft released set of Linux drivers for its Hyper-V software under the GPLv2 (General Public License version 2) not because of "perceived obligations" to that license but because it is the preferred license of the Linux community and would benefit both Microsoft customers and users of Linux, according to a company executive.

In a statement by Microsoft Senior Director of Platform Strategy Sam Ramji posted to the company's Port 25 blog late Thursday, Microsoft stood by its original reasoning to release technology called the Linux Device Driver for Virtualization on Monday under the GPLv2. Microsoft had not previously released code under this open-source license and had in fact criticized it. The Linux OS is licensed under the GPL.

[ Microsoft-Linux analysis: InfoWorld's Martin Heller says that Microsoft's Linux contributions are quite welcome. | Randall Kennedy thinks Microsoft will use the GPL to mount an attack on the Linux platform. | Savio Rodriguez calls Microsoft's contributions a simple business decision. ]

"Microsoft chose the GPLv2 license for the mutual benefit of our customers, partners, the community, and Microsoft," he wrote.

The statement came after Stephen Hemminger, principal engineer with open source network vendor Vyatta, said in a blog post earlier in the week that the code Microsoft released was in violation of the license before the company made it available.

Hemminger said that a network driver in Microsoft's Hyper-V virtualization software used open source components licensed under the GPL, which violates the license because it does not allow for mixing of closed source or proprietary code with open source code, he said in the post. Hemminger said once the violation was discovered, he alerted Novell to the violation, which then informed Microsoft of the matter.

Ramji did acknowledge working closely with Novell's Greg Kroah-Hartman, a Linux kernel contributor, "who helped us understand the community norms and licensing options surrounding the drivers." But Ramji stopped short of addressing Hemminger's claims.

"The primary reason we made this determination [to release the code] in this case is because GPLv2 is the preferred license required by the Linux community for their broad acceptance and engagement," he wrote. "For us to participate in the Linux Driver Project, GPLv2 was the best option that allowed us to enjoy the tremendous offer of community support. The community's response even within a few hours of posting the code was welcoming and we appreciate it greatly."

Microsoft's announcement on Monday that it was releasing 20,000 lines of code under the GPL came as a surprise to the industry and the open source software community in particular. Microsoft touted the release as yet another example of its interest in working with the open source community despite a past of thorny dealings.

The drivers Microsoft released, once added to the Linux kernel, will provide the hooks for any distribution of Linux to run on Windows Server 2008 and its Hyper-V hypervisor technology. Microsoft will provide ongoing maintenance of the code under the GPL, the company said Monday.

Many see open source software as the biggest threat to Microsoft's software business, and while the company has indeed taken steps to work more closely with the community, the relationship is still tenuous. Microsoft has made broad claims that Linux violates many of its patents, and it continues to seek royalties from open source companies that use Linux-based software.

The most recent patent deal came last week with the Japanese company Melco Holdings -- the parent company of Buffalo Inc. and Buffalo Group. Microsoft and Melco agreed to provide Melco customers patent coverage for their use of Buffalo-branded network-attached storage devices and routers running Linux. In exchange, Melco will pay royalties to Microsoft.

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