Was Microsoft forced to release Linux code?

Microsoft certainly did the right thing earlier this week when it released code for the Linux kernel under the the General Public License version 2 (GPLv2). But there are claims that Microsoft may have been forced to do it, because the company was in violation of the GPL.

That charge is being made by Stephen Hemminger, of the open-source network vendor Vyatta. Hemminger claims in his blog that Microsoft violated GPL because its Hyper-V network driver used not only Microsoft proprietary code, but open source components under GPL. The GPL license doesn't allow for mixing propietary code with open source GPL code.

He claims:

The driver had both open-source components which were under GPL, and statically linked to several binary parts. The GPL does not permit mixing of closed and open source parts, so this was an obvious violation of the license.

Hemminger adds that rather than blowing the whistle on Microsoft right away, he decided to do some work behind the scenes to get the issue resolved. He notes on his blog:

Rather than creating noise, my goal was to resolve the problem, so I turned to Greg Kroah-Hartman. Since Novell has a (too) close association with Microsoft, my expectation was that Greg could prod the right people to get the issue resolved.

It took longer than expected, but finally Microsoft decided to do the right thing and release the drivers.

That might explain Microsoft's unprecedented action of releasing 20,000 lines of code under GPL to be used in the Linux kernel. That code will, in the words of Elizabeth Montalbano of the IDG News Service, "provide the hooks for any distribution of Linux to run on Windows Server 2008 and its Hyper-V hypervisor technology."

There's no way to know, of course, whether the discovery of the mixed code was what led to the Microsoft code release. And in a way, it's beside the point. Microsoft has never used GPL before, and has often criticized it, so it could have simply ignored the mixing of the code. If it came to a legal battle, Microsoft has plenty of lawyers on staff.

So whether Microsoft was forced into the action or not, it clearly ended up doing the right thing.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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