Earlier this week MIcrosoft released GPL code to the public. Opinions have varied on this, with some folks thinking it suggests a stark about-face for Microsoft, others thinking it’s simply a marketing ploy to sell more licenses for their Hyper-V virtualization solution. Whatever the motivation, the code is out there. Linus Torvalds, the benevolent dictator of the Linux kernel, hasn’t yet looked at the code, but he does have some opinions on the matter.
I’m a big believer in “technology over politics”. I don’t care who it comes from, as long as there are solid reasons for the code, and as long as we don’t have to worry about licensing etc issues.
Allah knows there’s plenty of politics in Linux-land. From the raging battle over whether to say “GNU/Linux”, to recognize the GNU project’s involvement, to the subtle differences between “open source” and “free software”, there’s plenty of room for people to lose sight of the technical objectives, and get mired in never-ending semantic arguments.
So complaining about the fact that Microsoft picked a selfish area to work on is just silly. Of course they picked an area that helps them. That’s the point of open source – the ability to make the code better for your particular needs, whoever the ‘your’ in question happens to be.
And there, my friends, is what I think is one of the best aspects of free and open source software: you can use it for purely ideological reasons, or you can use it for strategic business reasons.
A lot of people just getting started with free software are often overwhelmed with and dismayed by the amount of duplication of open source code. Why are there eleventy billion different text editors? Why are there six different web browsers? Why are there so many mail clients? One of the overarching principles of open source software is “There’s more than one way to do it.” Microsoft is slowly learning this, and they’re taking baby steps toward some of those other ways.
It’ll be really interesting to see how Microsoft responds to patches submitted against their newly released GPL code!