Microsoft has offered a significant contribution to the Linux kernel under the GNU General Public License version 2. This is important news. It seems like only yesterday that Microsoft was declaring Linux, open source software and the GPL to be the axis of evil. Now Microsoft is making a credible opening bid to become a member of the Linux community. As the largest corporate contributor to the Linux kernel, Red Hat would like to acknowledge this and encourage Microsoft to continue on this path.
The new contribution consists of three Linux device drivers directed at interoperability. They are designed to allow Linux to run as a virtual machine on top of Hyper-V, Microsoft’s hypervisor. Such interoperability is to Microsoft’s benefit, of course, as a selling point for Windows. But it’s also good for Linux users, in providing more choice and flexibility. So it has win-win elements.
In the past, Microsoft has been critical of GPL licensing, but it has evidently accepted the reality that copyleft licensing is here to stay. The GPL is still by far the most used open-source license, and it has been a major contributor to the growth of free and open source software. As far as the kernel community is concerned, at this point there’s simply no viable alternative. Microsoft’s acceptance of the GPL suggests a new level of thoughtful realism in Redmond. This too is encouraging.
But there is still an important issue that needs to be addressed before Microsoft can be considered a full-fledged member of the Linux community – the issue of patents. Over the years, the individual and corporate members of the community have through formal and informal steps made clear that they will not pursue or threaten patent litigation in the Linux area. Patent threats are irreconcilable with the norms and values that are at the heart of Linux. To win the respect and trust of the Linux community, Microsoft should unequivocally disavow such conduct and pledge that its patents will never be used against Linux or other open source developers and users.
So we congratulate Microsoft on its recent step. In the meantime, we will stay tuned and look for good progress on the interoperability front, together with real engagement with the open source community.