Linux slips into Microsoft's warm, deadly embrace

How Microsoft will use the GPL to mount a serious backdoor assault on the core of the Linux platform

Embrace and extend: That has been Microsoft's competitive mantra for as long as I can remember. So it comes as no real surprise to me that the company would choose to release, via the GPL, device driver code that more closely integrates Linux into the Microsoft virtualization ecosystem. After all, it's not like Linux will be running the show in this relationship. Rather, it's making the FOSS (free open source software) community's fair-haired boy feel more comfortable as it settles into the warm, fatal embrace of Hyper-V that is the Redmond giant's ultimate goal.

Make no mistake: This is a hostile action on Microsoft's part. Its stated mission is to squash Linux like a bug, and the easiest way to do that is to feign friendship -- to offer a bogus olive branch, then switch it out at the last minute for a nasty bundle of thorns.

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Don’t believe me? Ask IBM. As a consultant to the Software Solutions (SWS) group in the mid 90’s, I saw firsthand how Microsoft embraced IBM’s legacy architecture – through SNA Server and similar integration plays – and then swallowed the company’s mid-range business whole through a well crafted commodity power play.

Or talk to Novell. The onetime networking leader sat helpless as Microsoft embraced the IPX protocol, giving it equal time with its own NetBEUI (and thus neutralizing protocol choice as a factor) while quietly shifting its core development to the more level playing field that was TCP/IP.

Now, it's the FOSS community's turn in the Microsoft death grip. Watch as the Redmondians wax poetic about "co-opetition" and how they need to acknowledge customer demand for Linux-based solutions. Meanwhile, their real play is to gain control over the FOSS platform's implementation by obviating the need for non-Microsoft tools and frameworks. Then, when they've eliminated the last vestiges of Linux's pre-embrace existence, they'll slowly squeeze the life out of their now hapless victim by shortchanging it in new Microsoft platform releases and generally making the FOSS solution cost-ineffective.

Of course, not everyone will agree with my assessment. Some, most notably Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, are interpreting the move as Microsoft “validating” the open source movement. And while I understand his desire to see the glass as half full on this one -- these folks have been pining for acceptance, so who can blame them when they jump at the chance for affirmation from the playground bully? -- I cringe at the thought of what will happen 18 to 24 months down the road when Microsoft has its hooks fully embedded into the Linux hide. (Hint: Think Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom,” with the FOSS crowd as the hobbled gazelle to Microsoft’s hungry lioness.)

Bottom line: Far from extending an olive branch, Microsoft has in fact declared open war on Linux. This latest development represents a backdoor assault on the very core of the platform. GPL or no, the FOSS community would be foolish to accept this thinly veiled attempt at usurping their control over Linux's destiny. If anything, the community should band together and actively resist such overtures lest it fall victim to the warm, deadly embrace that is Microsoft.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.