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Open source Linux device drivers submitted by — Microsoft?

Jul 20, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 2 views

A software company based in Redmond, Wash. has released 20,000 lines of code under GPLv2 for three Linux device drivers, for potential contribution to the Linux kernel. Microsoft says its first open source Linux code contribution is designed to speed the performance of the operating system when it's run in a Hyper-V virtual machine.

Microsoft announced the code release at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON) in San Jose, Calif. today. The company says it has submitted the code to the Linux kernel community for inclusion in the Linux tree.

Developed by Microsoft's Open Source Technology Center (OSTC), the three Linux drivers enhance the performance of Linux when virtualized on Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V or Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V server virtualization platforms, says Microsoft.

In a Microsoft Q&A that accompanied the release, OTSC director Tom Hanrahan stated, "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."

Hanrahan goes on to explain that the drivers enable Linux to run in "enlightened mode," giving it the same optimized synthetic devices as a Windows virtual machine running on top of Hyper-V." Linux could previously run on Hyper-V, but with slower performance, he adds. The term "enlightened" is a pun based on the Xen (pronounced "Zen") approach to virtualization bypass short-cuts that improve performance.

"Customers have told us that they would like to standardize on one virtualization platform," continues Hanrahan. "The Linux device drivers will help customers who are running Linux to consolidate their Linux and Windows servers on a single virtualization platform, thereby reducing the complexity of their infrastructure."

Driven by customer demand

The Q&A quotes Sam Ramji, senior director of Platform Strategy in Microsoft's Server and Tools organization, as saying that Microsoft wanted to help companies cope with "the current economic climate," which demands increased heterogeneity. "Today's release would have been unheard of from Microsoft a few years ago, but it's a prime example that customer demand is a powerful catalyst for change," adds Ramji.

According to Ramji, Microsoft has contributed to several other open source efforts, including "the PHP Engine, optimizing PHP 5.3 to perform strongly on Windows, and working to improve the performance of numerous PHP applications on Windows." Redmond has also participated in various Apache Software Foundation projects, such as Hadoop, Stonehenge, and QPID, and has worked with Firefox and Axis2 on compatibility projects, adds Ramji.

Microsoft's chief ally in the Linux realm, Novell, helped the software giant work with the Linux kernel community. The project was headed up by Novell Fellow Greg Kroah-Hartman, who leads the Linux Kernel Device Driver project, says Novell.

An olive branch or business as usual?

The Microsoft Q&A is full of positive statements about open source software, and the folks at Microsoft's OSTC, who are well versed in Linux, clearly would like to see a little love from Linux developers. Indeed, what's not to like? The drivers should be of considerable utility to the enterprise world. And a few Linux developers may even get a slightly warm and fuzzy feeling at the prospect of Microsoft taking open source seriously.

Yet, Linux faithful may well be skeptical of this unusual olive branch from Microsoft at a time when relations between the company and the Linux community are nippy, to say the least. Between the patent lawsuit against TomTom, and the growing number of embedded Linux companies forced to capitulate to Microsoft patent demands, the penguin is a long way from whistling "Start Me Up."

In the end, this is largely a pragmatic push to get more Linux users to make use of Hyper-V. Like the U.S. trading grain to the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, it may not signify much.

So, anyway, thanks for the open source code, Microsoft, and keep it coming. But if you really want to make buddies with open source, what about, say, releasing the FAT file-system under GPL? Just a thought.


The Microsoft Q&A with Hanrahan and Ramji may be found here.

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