Microsoft Contributes to the Linux kernel – Or what shines isn’t always gold

There’s been a lot of fuss regarding a recent patch submitted to the Linux kernel from big Redmond herself. Microsoft contributed over 20,000 lines of code in a ‘break from the norm,’ code that would help GNU/Linux guests perform better on Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtualization suite.

Some people said this kernel contribution didn’t matter for 99.9% of users, some said it wasn’t worth the code, and some praised Microsoft for realizing that GNU/Linux has become a worthy competitor and for ‘supporting’ open source.

How quickly they forget.
October 1998. Eric Raymond, the leader of the Open Source movement, is leaked a number of Microsoft internal documents regarding GNU/Linux and their business practices regarding it. Basically, the end result we learned that, as they have with the internet, their policy would be to take GNU/Linux technologies (embrace) add proprietary nuances (extend) that broke interconnectivity between the two versions of the same technology and use that as FUD against the GNU/Linux version (exterminate)[1]. Is ActiveX a good thing to have as a ‘standard’ internet technology? What about the slight incompatibilites that break CSS for sites designed for the ‘dominating’ browser (IE) on other standards compliant browsers? Microsoft’s goal in embracing all open technologies is to pull them into their proprietary walled garden and give users no easy way to leave. Lock the gates, and they have to get over a wall and chainlinked fence.
And just WEEKS ago, after about a month of bloody infighting between the Mono and anti-Mono camps, most of which was completely uncalled for, Microsoft released PARTS of the C# specification under a “Community Promise” which promised to protect people who implement PARTS of the .NET framework from lawsuits for using THOSE parts of the spec. What they did, many hailed it as a move for Microsoft yet again supporting Free software. But what they did has a second effect on the use of Mono: it spreads FUD on the parts that aren’t under the promise, parts that are required for a usable stack. What they did was damningly clever. And here they are, doing it again, in the midst of the kernel itself! Sure, the GPLv2 protects users from lawsuits, but Microsoft now has their foot in the door. Hidden away in that 20,000 lines of code could be a binary blob? Who knows what dastardly payload Microsoft has tucked away there.

And, what exactly are they trying to do? Trying to pull GNU/Linux into the fold. Try to make users dependent on closed technologies (the Virtualization server has not been released under the GPLv2!) and to bring up their profit margin, not tip their hats to GNU/Linux or realize that they are an actual player now, they did that ten years ago.

How quickly they label the people questioning this trolls and haters and zealots and against open source.
I like how all of the people supporting this patch connect the people who are against this patch to those people who were warring with them about Mono. This group of ‘anti-Mono pseudo-open-source trolls’ are a small subset of the people worried about this patch, and are, in my opinion, not supporters of Free Software. Grouping these people with the likes of Richard Stallman is an insult to the man who created the environment for you guys to do what you do, the license you use, and the culture that you all live in.
Free software is not about hating Microsoft; it’s about making software respect users’ freedom. Free software is not about creating more powerful software than proprietary means; that is just a nice side-effect of the Free Software development methodology. Free software is about keeping users from being controlled by softwares’ creators. Microsoft has released code into a Free kernel that gives a nonFree hypervisor control over it. That is kind of scary, in my opinion.
Martin Sourada writes in an agreement with Linus Torvalds’ words against the Free Software movement:

Anyway, the basic premise of today’s blog-post is that being open also means being tolerant and cooperative. These stands on a much higher moral level than hatred, FUD, … They are also vital for keeping the open-source community healthy. They are also one of the reasons I use and contribute to Fedora. It’s four foundations contain these — freedom, friends, features, first.

Note that he lists Freedom first. I think that the biggest difference between the Free Software movement and the Open Source initiative is that the former focuses on the freedom of the user (the freedom to be able to modify, improve and share software without worrying that the developers could take legal or other actions against you) while the latter focuses on the freedom of the developer (the freedom to release software under whatever terms suit the software development best and most open, regardless of whether it is truly Free or not.) This rift will not do the Free Software community any good because, like the US government, the people in control are NOT the people — they are the lobbyists, the politicians and the rich; the developers, the companies, and the rich.

The post is brought to you by lekhonee v0.6

~ by Ryan Rix on 24 July 2009.

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