Microsoft's GPLv2 contribution to Linux was a simple business decision

Business imperatives will always outweigh historical dogma on both sides of the open source debate

It's been amusing to read all the "pigs flying" and "Armageddon is near" initial responses to news that Microsoft is contributing code under the GPLv2.

If you really thought this would never happen, then you've been under a rock for the past three years. Or you've ignored Microsoft's shifting stance toward open source.

[ InfoWorld's Martin Heller says that Microsoft's Linux contributions are quite welcome, while Randall Kennedy thinks Microsoft will use the GPL to mount an attack on the Linux platform. ]

Beyond the hype, the simple fact is that Microsoft made a business decision that will make its commercial software more attractive to buyers. Full stop. (I've wanted to use that statement in a post for quite some time.)

Sure, the business decision involved making an open source contribution, under the GPLv2 no less. But this is not as groundbreaking as some are suggesting. The contribution has absolutely no vital impact on Microsoft's commercial software, nor does this action suggest that Microsoft is about to open source key parts of its software portfolio. On that point, why would any software vendor do so without a compelling business case? The contribution makes it easier for customers to run Linux on top of their Windows Server 2008 license, so Microsoft's revenue stream stands to benefit. See the business case linkage?

To get excited about this news for the pigs flying factor is to ignore all the work that Sam Ramji's team has been doing internally and externally over the past three-plus years. As Sam told Paul Krill and me, engineering teams at Microsoft are "much more open to open source today than ever before."

There are surely more announcements from Microsoft regarding open source contributions in the pipeline, and each will be driven by a business case that puts Microsoft's products at an advantage. This is no different than the motivations of other companies participating in the open source ecosystem.

Microsoft's "openness to open source" is surely linked to the growing evidence that enabling open source products to work with Microsoft's commercial products will help Microsoft's business. This is a conclusion that IBM reached years ago when we got behind Linux, helped found Eclipse, contributed to Apache, and so on. Frankly speaking, Microsoft reached this conclusion long before yesterday's announcement. The public has simply been too busy ignoring Microsoft's work around the open source ecosystem. If anything, the news coverage will be helpful to shift the "us vs. them" stance to a more constructive conversation.

Kudos to Sam, Robert, and the Port25 team for their efforts in driving that constructive conversation.

p.s.: I should state: "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions."


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