Sometimes, some things are just too good to be true. Earlier this week, Microsoft made a relatively stunning announcement that it would contribute some 20000 lines of code to the Linux kernel, licensed under the GPL. Microsoft isn’t particularly fond of either Linux or the GPL, so this was pretty big news. As it turns out, the code drop was brought on by… A GPL violation.
This story begins when Stephen Hemminger, principal engineer with open-source network vendor Vyatta and Linux contributor, finds out that a network driver in Microsoft’s Hyper-V uses open source components licensed under the GPL. These components were statically linked to closed-source binaries, which the GPL does not allow.
Consequently, Hemminger contacted Linux Driver Project head Greg Kroah-Hartman, who works for Novell. Commendably, Hemminger wanted the case to be worked out without fireworks and massive media attention. “Since Novell has a (too) close association with Microsoft, my expectation was that Greg could prod the right people to get the issue resolved,” he writes on his blog.
When the code drop was announced Monday, nor Microsoft, nor Kroah-Hartman spoke of the violation. To confirm the story, About-Microsoft blogger Mary-Jo Foley contacted Kroah-Hartman, and he confirmed that Hemminger is indeed correct: the code drop seems to have been brought on by a GPL violation.
A “break from the ordinary” and a “significant milestone”? None of that – just a silently handled case, with an overdose of marketing spin, to prevent a major embarrassment for Microsoft.
Even if there was a GPL violation, that didn’t mean Microsoft had to contribute their code: they could have resolved the violation by not distributing.
The “why” of what they did is much less important than the “what”.