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Why Linux Did Not Need Microsoft's Code Injection

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Summary: The Novell-supported patch brings a software patents debate into Linux and also leverages Windows

Microsoft claims credit for writing a loadable module for Linux, conveniently characterising it as goodwill. Yesterday we wrote about Novell's role in this advancement of Windows [1, 2] (using the massive Linux program, which Novell has rights over). Going back to the roots of this module, it is almost as though Novell invited Microsoft to Linux. Unofficial Microsoft PR blogs seem to confirm Novell's role.



Microsoft Introduces Linux to Software Patents (from the Inside)



Matt Aslett and Jay Lyman from the 451 Group write this Q&A, which concludes with:

Absent the company giving up on software patents altogether, we believe that in order to convince those FOSS advocates that it is serious about co-existence, Microsoft needs to find a way to publicly communicate details about those 200+ patents in such a way that is not seen as a threat and would enable open source developers to license, work around, or challenge them. We also believe that the company is aware of this, although finding a solution to the problem will not be easy. But then neither was contributing code to Linux under the GPLv2.


There is also a Q&A from RedMonk.

“Going back to the roots of this module, it is almost as though Novell invited Microsoft to Linux.”One reader has told us that Horacio Gutierrez, one of the key men behind the racketeering operation against Linux, is now writing about "The new world of patent licensing for Linux" in the company's lobbying blog. "The article describes patent licensing and Linux development under the GPL as something that belongs together," explains the reader, who quotes from the blog: "real-life proof of Microsoft’s desire to build new bridges among industry partners for the benefit of customers, relying on patent licensing agreements as a means of opening up collaboration opportunities by ensuring mutual respect of IP rights and the innovations they protect. This approach is not unique to Microsoft, but is instead the prevalent model for enabling open innovation in the technology world, consumer electronics being an excellent case in point. IP licensing will also continue to play a key role in facilitating the emergence of new categories of exciting devices that embody the convergence of previously disconnected technologies, such as new generations of mobile phones, mini computers like netbooks and smartbooks, and eBook readers."

Who said anything about patents?

As our reader Goblin puts it, what they are trying to say is that "It's OK to claim IP rights... as long as you are open about it... it's a no brainer, Microsoft needs to make money... the shareholders wouldn't like it acting "for the love of computers"... and for the casual observer it may appear happy and fluffy... this changes nothing. It's common sense that Microsoft would want to remove ANY competitor and any gestures made to the Open Source community IMO will be ones that benefit Microsoft. As I say, a proprietary firm doesn't run on kind gestures. This article has just dressed up what we already know."

At IDG, there is a bit of a chronology up for display, but it mostly praises Microsoft towards the end where the lawsuit against TomTom is conspicuously missing. It seemingly sells the impression that Microsoft improved over time.

Microsoft Monday made an historic move by submitting device drivers to the Linux kernel under a GPLv2 license. Microsoft has had a checkered past with both Linux and its open source GPL licensing structure, so the move was a jaw dropper. Here is a look at some of the milestones since Microsoft internal memos leaked in 1998 that attacked the open source Linux operating system as it began to pick up steam as an alternative to Windows.


It Was No "Donation"



Here is the opinion that "Microsoft code cannot taint Linux," but the matter of fact is that code which promotes Windows becomes part of Linux and it remains impossible to reject.

Not for nothing do many people in the FOSS community regard any moves by Microsoft in their direction as suspicious. But in this case, there is one leveller - the General Public License.

This is the same license that has been described as viral by the friendly folk at Redmond. This is one of the reasons why Steve Ballmer has likened Linux to a cancer.


The following explains why Microsoft did not choose the GPL; it was obliged to have it chosen, so it was no donation.

So, if my reasoning is correct, and I am very happy to be corrected, this is what seems to be the order of events:

1. MS want Linux to run on its Hyper-V platform

2. They develop and release drivers that use some GPL code and link to static GPL binaries. I don’t know where that original GPL code came from but it sure would be interesting to find out.

3. These drivers are in breach of the GPL and a third party notices

4. MS are forced, nicely, to comply with the GPL, just like every other organisation whose GPL breaches have been seriously challenged.

So, whilst this is all good and marvallous, especially if you want to run Linux on Windows, keep this other factlet in mind. Microsoft has shaken money out of at least 500 organisations including Linux distributers, claiming IP rights over code they have not written because of patents they refuse to identify in public.

This is an interesting story, but not in the way it is being told. Celebrate because we can chalk it up as a success…to the GPL.


Microsoft was actually pressured to publish the code.

Microsoft was actually pushed by the Linux driver project team to make this week’s historic code submission to the Linux kernel.


It's Business as Usual



More on Microsoft's motives:

Microsoft will play nice with Linux for the time being if it helps Windows Server gain ground as a computing platform in the data center. But the company's ambitious goals haven't changed, and its long-term vision leaves little room for Linux and other open-source technologies.


As our reader Fewa puts it, "I have no problem with them releasing code under the GPL2, it's not a bad thing. But it needs to be noticed that this code does not help Linux. Just like with Xen, it's a method to exert some hardware-side control over Linux and also just to try to get a better position in virtualization."

“Just like with Xen, it's a method to exert some hardware-side control over Linux and also just to try to get a better position in virtualization.”
      --Fewa
Portraying this as generosity and goodwill is a huge stretch. Even Savio Rodrigues, who is sometimes sympathetic towards Microsoft, says that it "was a simple business decision," leading to the possible suspicion that this patch -- just like Mono and Moonlight for example -- is what Novell does for Microsoft to saturate GNU/Linux with code that is favourable to Windows at a technical level (never mind legal implications).

It ought to be added that criticism is deserved by several companies that generally pose a threat to Freedom and work around Linux, but Microsoft is among the very few who try to prevent us from using our operating system of choice, just as it committed violations to deprive OS/2 users of that same privilege. The patch was just business as usual, but PR efforts were blinding to many.

"Microsoft is unique among proprietary software companies: they are the only ones who have actively tried to kill Open Source and Free Software. It's not often someone wants to be your friend after trying to kill you for ten years, but such change is cause for suspicion."

--Bradley M. Kuhn (SFLC)

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