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Microsoft’s Goodwill is to Obey the Law

Posted in GNU/Linux, GPL, Kernel, Law, Microsoft at 6:23 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Microsoft’s Linux code is from Microsoft, for Microsoft, which fights Linux

Love tag

“The government is not trying to destroy Microsoft, it’s simply seeking to compel Microsoft to obey the law. It’s quite revealing that Mr. Gates equates the two.”

Government official

Summary: Microsoft’s Linux module was made GPL-licensed only because the law required it after accusations of GPL violation

THIS will hopefully be the last post about an issue that we previously covered in:

A blog post that we linked to the other day revealed that Microsoft merely did what it had to do. It was a legal obligation, not a moral obligation. The pro-Microsoft folks wrote about it by citing the blog with the original claim.

As revealed by Stephen Hemminger – a principal engineer with open-source network vendor Vyatta – a network driver in Microsoft’s Hyper-V used open-source components licensed under the GPL and statically linked to binary parts. The GPL does not permit the mixing of closed and open-source elements.

This is further confirmed in Mary Jo Foley’s blog and there is wider coverage of this in Slashdot and OSNews, which chose the headline “Microsoft’s Linux Kernel Code Drop Result of GPL Violation”

To put things in the right order, also consider the headline from IDG: “Engineer: Microsoft Violated GPL Before Linux Code Release”

So, in hindsight, it was not Microsoft’s intention to release the module as Free software. Microsoft screwed up. Linus Torvalds responds to this too, but in his assessment he makes the mistake of comparing Microsoft’s patches to IBM’s. IBM is not the company which is attacking Linux; Microsoft is very unique in that regard. Why would Torvalds refuse to see that Microsoft writes code to advance the competitor/s of GNU/Linux, which is what makes Microsoft’s code different from code of Intel or IBM? Matthew Aslett says that “we should all be very grateful for Linus Torvalds.” We probably all are (I sure am), but this does not imply that there should be no disagreements at times. As Aslett noted:

Glyn Moody reminds us that there has always been a divide between purists and pragmatists, and that actually there is value in that divide in that debate helps expose weaknesses and refine arguments.

We wrote about this a couple of hours ago.

The Microsoft-faithful (and Microsoft investor) Synder daemonises those who warned about Microsoft’s code, so it’s clear that these folks are trying to bury something. Specifically, he writes:

In case you missed it, Microsoft has released 20,000 lines of Hyper-V device driver code to the Linux kernel community. The news prompted a number of commentators, including InfoWorld’s own Randall Kennedy, to go full-bore ballistic. You’d think the black helicopters were about to swoop down on Linuxland.

The other day we noticed the same type of denial in Beta News, which is typically biased in Microsoft’s favour. They are very specifically targeting critics of the big patch. It has always been self serving and it would be foolish to expect otherwise. Here is another interesting take on the subject.

Now ask yourself this question: would Microsoft have released their virtualization drivers as Open Source if they could have been included in the kernel as binary drivers? Probably not! (especially if as some suggest Microsoft had little choice)

The bottom line is that Microsoft did nothing out of altruism (companies are not like humans with compassion and ubuntu), so to claim this was a change of heart is to totally miss the point and to tactlessly embrace Microsoft’s PR.

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  1. zatoichi said,

    July 24, 2009 at 10:31 am


    Microsoft’s Linux module was made GPL-licensed only because the law required it after accusations of GPL violation

    Hold your horses there, Roy! Whoa, Nellie!

    That’s an overstatement. No one has the slightest idea that the law requires anything at all here, and it would take a court trial to determine that. I know it’s very tempting (and probably kneejerk behavior at this point) to paint Microsoft as a lawbreaker at every opportunity, but t’ain’t so, McGee.

    It may be safely reasoned that the GPL v2 license appertaining to portions of the composite drivers that Microsoft previously distributed required it.

    It can be said with a degree of certainty that accepted open source community practices required it.

    The headline seems to be asserting that Microsoft was in danger of breaking some specific and identifiable law here. I don’t believe that’s true.

    zatoichi Reply:

    Sorry, but it seems sometime that every time I look up, I see something new… I’ll try to save time for everyone by pre-commentating this one, using [square brackets]. Try to keep in mind that you mightn’t get to read the facts here otherwise, it might help.

    Microsoft was not “accused of GPL violations”, at least not as I read the story, although that’s been reported some places that don’t fact-check too carefully when there’s a headline at stake, like,say, here.

    What I understood was that Stephen Hemminger, found some sort of problem in drivers that were already a sort of a problem, being of a binary blobbish nature. He brought it to the attention of Greg, who had a chat with Microsoft about it. No accusation.

    And somewhat late-breaking news supports that sequence of events: Microsoft says that GPL violations were not the reason it released the drivers at all but because it was the right thing to do!

    Sam Ramji said, the decision to release was “not based on any perceived obligations tied to the GPLv2″, and that the GPLv2 was “the preferred license required by the Linux community for their broad acceptance and engagement”. (I’ve met Sam, and Bill Hilf, a few times, at conferences.) [Call me a shill now.]

    [SFX: Cue ]

    Vyatta Vice President Dave Roberts states that neither it, or principal engineer Stephen Hemminger, have accused Microsoft of GPL violations, as reported elsewhere. {like, say here, Roy} In a blog posting, Roberts says “news stories have started to circulate that have bordered on putting words into the mouths of both Vyatta and its employees”

    So, not necessarily a violation, at least not according to the folks who were supposed to have found this violation. ["It's a conspiracy!"]

    Roberts says “Stephen merely called the situation to Microsoft’s attention” and that Microsoft have made the right decision to open source the Hyper-V drivers. Hemminger says “once Microsoft was aware of it, they were eager to resolve” the problem

    So, there was a “problem” or an “issue”, but it apparently was not clearly a violation; and Hemminger didn’t “accuse” anybody of anything, he merely called the situation to their attention, and they were “eager to resolve” it, this according to Hemminger himself.

    [SFX: Cue ]

    [Accusations of someone having been "bought off"]

    [Speculation that Vyatta is "not really a free software company"]

    [Speculation regarding possible threats on the part of large corporations to people's lives and well-being]

    [Attempts to probe Hemminger's and Roberts' past backgrounds]

    [Random conspiracy theories]

    ["Troll! Troll!"]

    Thank you for your kind attention.

  2. Nemesis said,

    July 24, 2009 at 10:50 am


    “The government is not trying to destroy Microsoft, it’s simply seeking to compel Microsoft to obey the law. It’s quite revealing that Mr. Gates equates the two.”

    –Government official

    Who was this “unnamed source” Roy, saying a “government official” may sound nice but does that mean you had a chat to the postman this morning. I know it makes you sound more correct and factural but just stating “government official” with no source or ability to confirm or deny what you are stating to be fact or fiction.

    As for and the GPL’d code, MS is a fairly large company, it has the resources to re-write any drivers it felt may be in any form of violation, also you honestly believe the FSF would risk a test of the GPL in a court of law against a group with pockets way deeper than the FSF’s arms ?

    I dont think so, the GPL has not been properly tested in court, the FSF tend to try to scare people into compliance with copyright law.

    I know here MS can do no good, but it must be hard for you to put a negative spin and FUD on anything MS, Novell or anyone else you dont like does.

    It’s a damn shame you cant /kick MS /kick Novell like you love to do to anyone that does not toe the Roy mantra.

    bixler Reply:

    “The government is not trying to destroy Microsoft, it’s simply seeking to compel Microsoft to obey the law. It’s quite revealing that Mr. Gates equates the two.”
    –Government official

    Who was this “unnamed source”

    This came from the Washington Post on Tuesday, December 8, 1998 during the US DoJ v. Microsoft anti-trust case:

    Gates Escalates PR War Outside Court

    Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    And the law dealt with in this case is copyright law (GPL).

  3. zatoichi said,

    July 24, 2009 at 1:42 pm


    That’s a whole lotta laws, Roy. Pick one.

  4. NotZed said,

    July 24, 2009 at 5:13 pm


    Well, they could’ve gone a more permissive license, like 2 clause BSD or the like. I guess they see the protections offered by the GPL as worthwhile after-all … since they explicitly chose it.

    This might seem a bit of a far-out comment, but Linux is starting to become a quasi-proprietary kernel since they locked the GPL at an obsolete version of the license. Example, all the drivers are inaccessible to any projects using a more advanced license, and commercial vendors often lock their privates away in binary blobs too.

    And it’s the drivers which define the platform … after-all, apart from all the drivers a kernel isn’t a terribly large amount of code.

    zatoichi Reply:

    This is striking me as just another backseat driver demand that Linus do things your way on his project. I see problems with GPL v3; Linus sees problems with GPL v3; lots of people see problems with GPL v3.

    Maybe there are some problems with GPL v3, and the people pushing it the loudest have a vested interest in propagandizing a license they don’t actually understand?

    I’d be very interested in hearing from anyone who thinks they’ve got a good grasp on the implications of GPL v3, and sect. 6 in particular, on government-regulated and certified mobile devices, such as cell phones, etc. You need to be able to discuss cell phone-related legislation, carrier requirements, and government certification regimes intelligently, for starts.

    I predict a vast silence, but who knows? Maybe I’ll be surprised.

    The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that is the way to bet.

    —Damon Runyon

    Nemesis Reply:

    exactly, ive read of alot of developers and managers specifically veto’ing GPLv3 code, whereas V2 is acceptable.

    many big groups like apache, MIT, BSD apple, google and so on have very little respect for the GPL and prefer to emply less restrictive licenses.

    and yes, probity, certification, QA, “neck to strangle” and the very fact that GPLv3 came about as a knee jerk reaction to a new technology.

    People dont want to live in fear of RMS and becoming the focus of his next campain.

    No one wants to be the next Tivo, or the next target in stallmans cross hairs prompting him to draft a new and more restrictive license to preserve his version of “freedom”.

    A freedom by the way that only benifits a very very small minority of the FOSS community. As basically no one hacks FOSS/Linux code. a very very small percentage of the total commuity. sadly.

    This means for most people the GPL holds little or no value.

    zatoichi Reply:

    …a knee jerk reaction to a new technology…

    Actually there’s a saying among lawyers: “Hard cases make bad law”.

    The corollary to this is that writing a license because you’re aggravated with a specific device is probably not a great idea. The “Tivoization” stuff in the GPL is probably the biggest problem in there.

    Of course, folks here likely don’t know anything about that. They think Microsoft violated the GPL v2…

  5. zatoichi said,

    July 26, 2009 at 10:33 am


    Roy, are you planning on correcting this story, since Vyatta, Stephen Hemminger’s employer, asserts that you’re all wet about this, that there was no violation?

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