Beware of Microsofties Bearing Gifts? Not This Time

Old habits die hard. When Linux and open source in general were still in the cradle, it made sense to be afraid -- very afraid -- of Microsoft and other commercial software vendors. But those days are long over. Linux is so deeply entrenched in the enterprise that Ballmer and company couldn't kill it if they tried. So my advice to the FOSSies and bloggers who are about to have a cow over Microsoft's decision to contribute a handful of drivers to the code base is to take a Xanax and chill out.

In case you missed it, Microsoft has released 20,000 lines of Hyper-V device driver code to the Linux kernel community. The news prompted a number of commentators, including InfoWorld's own Randall Kennedy, to go full-bore ballistic. You'd think the black helicopters were about to swoop down on Linuxland.

[ Discover where open source is heading from the movement's leaders in InfoWorld's "state of open source" roundtable. | Find out how InfoWorld's Test Center rates Hyper-V ]

I'm not so naive as to think that Microsoft is doing anything but looking out for itself. But hey, Microsoft is in business to make money, and there's nothing wrong with that. Greg Schott, the CEO of MuleSource and nobody's patsy, puts it this way: "I take it at face value, and no, this isn't a new, altruistic Microsoft. To compete with VMware, Hyper-V needs every advantage Redmond can create for it. As far as Microsoft attempting to take over Linux, it would be like trying to occupy a very populous and patriotic foreign country. Even Microsoft knows its limits."

What's more, the code in question is already out there and has been for some time, notes Bernard Golden, an open source consultant and CEO of Navica. "Distros -- Novell's and others' -- have been using that code. Adding it to the code base will likely improve the quality. And save them [the distros' developers] some work," he says.

The Real Target: VMware

As Freud probably never said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." And sometimes a contribution is just a contribution. Microsoft's Sam Ramji, senior director of platform strategy in the company's Server and Tools organization, explains the action this way in a prepared statement and video:

"Our initial goal in developing the code was to enable Linux to run as a virtual machine on top of Hyper-V, Microsoft's hypervisor and implementation of virtualization. The Linux device drivers we are releasing are designed so Linux can run in enlightened mode, giving it the same optimized synthetic devices as a Windows virtual machine running on top of Hyper-V. Without this driver code, Linux can run on top of Windows, but without the same high performance levels. We worked very closely with the Hyper-V team at Microsoft to make that happen."

Why not take that statement at face value? It certainly makes sense. Microsoft wants its virtual environment to outclass that of EMC's VMware unit, the embattled market leader. "At the heart of this is Microsoft being able to say able to say, 'We support Linux payloads really well in our virtual machine,'" says Golden.

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