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Microsoft releases code to the Linux community -- and?

When Microsoft (historically not a fan of the GPL) announced this week that it would release 20,000 lines of device driver code to the Linux community (meant to enhance the performance of Linux when virtualized on Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V or Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V), there were some raised eyebrows.

The code donation was certainly “a break from the ordinary,” according to the official Microsoft press release, in which a Microsoft official said the move was due in part to the current economic climate, to help companies consolidate their hardware and software.

“Many companies are turning to Microsoft more frequently to help them succeed in a heterogeneous technology world because we understand that reducing complexity is a key factor to reducing cost,” said Sam Ramji, senior director of platform strategy in Microsoft’s server and tools organization. “We are seeing interoperability as a lever for business growth.”

Some of you are probably thinking what Frank Basanta, director of technology for Systems Solutions, said in a recent interview: “Microsoft only does things that benefit Microsoft.”

There is a backstory to the code release that supports that view. Microsoft initially licensed the Linux drivers in violation of the GPL. A network driver in Microsoft’s Hyper-V was using open source components licensed under the GPL, as well as linking to closed-source binaries — a big no-no. Stephen Hemminger, a principal engineer with open source network vendor Vyatta and a Linux contributor, found this out with a bit of Googling (ironic? Nah – it is the standard after all) and passed on the information to Greg Kroah-Hartman, Linux driver project lead – hoping Kroah-Hartman could address the situation with Microsoft. And voila.

In any case, the deal isn’t likely to have much of an impact, especially among the many Microsoft shops in the midmarket. Few IT shops have mixed operating systems on one server, according to Gordon Haff, a principal analyst at Illuminata Inc., in a recent interview with, but the released code will make it easier for Hyper-V users to incorporate Linux into their environments.

“The typical user for this is the IT shop that’s primarily a Windows shop, but that is using Linux for some things,” Haff said. “This makes it easier and better for them to just use Microsoft [Hyper-V].”

That’s great for Microsoft, and not bad for users looking to do virtualization more affordably on Hyper-V.

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