Microsoft GPL Code: Impossible is nothing?

Hello guys. Oh yes, this time I couldn’t avoid to talk about the headline of the moment: “Microsoft stuns Linux world, submits source code for kernel“. So, here is my little post about this surprising and unexpected news (well, unexpected at least for me).

Microsoft creating and donating GPL code? for the Linux kernel? Ok, daily hundreds of news surround the technology world, but _this_ is history! No doubt about it, just look around the Internet and you’ll find thousands and thousands of articles and posts about it. Will this code be included in the official kernel source? How good or bad is this code written? What’s the Microsoft’s next move? A lot of people is talking about it, about the present and the future.

Of course, this topic is complex and messy and I have too much to learn yet, so I decided to look toward the past to understand a little why this news is so amazing. Then, I started my investigation about the relation between Linux, Microsoft and the GPL license some years ago. The initial procedure was easy: I picked up these three words in Google, then a lot of links appeared on my screen, so I looked for interviews and conferences about Microsoft people talking about GPL and Linux. After reading for hours, this is what I found:

Quote #1:

to emphasise the competitive threat, and in some senses the competitive opportunity, that Linux represents. Linux is a tough competitor. There’s no company called Linux, there’s barely a Linux road map. Yet Linux sort of springs organically from the earth. And it had, you know, the characteristics of communism that people love so very, very much about it. That is, it’s free.

Steve Ballmer, 2000

IMHO: I was talking to my high school teacher about this and he told me that some people use to link political concepts to another ideas to generate disapproval from people. Besides, he told me that in many countries if something is considered “communist” then is considered evil. So, my question is: How software can be “communist”? how things can have a political context? A cellphone can be communist? Maybe a car? It has no sense to me. I mean, people can be capitalist or communist… but software? Linux is broadly used in USA but in Russia too, so it has no political color. My conclusion: Mr Ballmer was trying to disinform people.

Quote #2:

Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches

Steve Ballmer, 2001

IMHO: Cancer is a disease, something bad which destroy. If thousands of developers around the world decide to join in a single project (Linux, for example) to build free/open software for anyone who wants to use it, how could it be something bad? If Linux is a cancer, to share is a cancer. What kind of world we want to build when to share things with others is a disease? Maybe I’m just 18 years old and I’m so naive to understand what Mr Ballmers wanted to mean, but it seems very sad to me. If Linux is becoming an important competitor for Microsoft, that means Linux is a disease for the world? What is a threat for Microsoft is a threat for the planet? I don’t think so.
I don’t know if Intellectual Property is an essential element for the humankind, but the truth is there weren’t lawyers or patents when humans created the wheel or the first hammer or any kind of the first tools. As far as I can understand, the money hungry of some companies has nothing to do with innovation or to make better products. It seems more about to avoid competition. Ironically, I was searching and I found that capitalism is based on free competition, a feature that Microsoft doesn’t like at all. So, finally, who’s a cancer? My conclusion: Mr Ballmer was trying to disinform people.

Quote #3:

there are problems for commercial users relative to the (GNU General Public License), and we are just making sure people understand the GPL.

Gates said Microsoft’s stance on open source “has been misconstrued in many ways. It’s a topic that you can leap on and say, ‘Microsoft doesn’t make free software.’ Hey, we have free software, the world will always have free software. I mean, if you characterize it that way, that’s not right. But if you say to people, ‘Do you understand the GPL?’ (then) they’re pretty stunned when the Pac-Man-like nature of it is described to them.

There are people who believe that commercial software should not exist at all–that there should be no jobs or taxes around commercial software at all,” Gates said. While that’s a small group, “the GPL was created with that goal in mind. And so people should understand the GPL. When people say open source, they often mean the GPL.

Bill Gates, 2001

IMHO: Free Software makes jobs and taxes disappear? Let’s see: How many people work for Novell? or Canonical? or Red Hat? These companies don’t pay taxes? Come on! Canonical’s annual revenue is creeping toward $30 million. Ok, I’m not a bookkeeper, but that amount should mean profit and taxes for someone. After eight years from this quote, I think the Free/Open Software economic viability is plenty demonstrated, so the idea of an exclusive proprietary licensing model as Mr Gates wants to hold his monopoly is not absolutely necessary. I was checking out the book “The Magic Cauldron” (written by Eric Raymond) and it showed me many different business models based on Free Software, so theory and practice this time agree. My conclusion: Mr Gates was trying to disinform people.

Quote #4:

Then you get to the issue of who is going to be the most innovative. You know, will it be capitalism, or will it be just people working at night? There’s always been a free software world. And you should understand Microsoft thinks free software is a great thing. Software written in universities should be free software. But it shouldn’t be GPL software. GPL software is like this thing called Linux, where you can never commercialize anything around it; that is, it always has to be free. And, you know, that’s just a philosophy. Some said philosophy wasn’t around much anymore, but it’s still there. And so that’s where we part company.

And the farmers will go home at night and work on the source code

Bill Gates, 2002

IMHO:…this thing called Linux, where you can never commercialize anything around it?” Oh sure! Tell Red Hat, Novell or Canonical! Do I need to say something else about this? I don’t think so. My conclusion: the same.

Quote #5:

The GPL violates the U.S. Constitution, together with copyright, antitrust and export control laws, and IBM’s claims based thereon, or related thereto, are barred.

SCO Group, 2003

IMHO: This quote is not about Microsoft, but it shows how companies can try to attack some projects, when they are against their interests (read M-O-N-E-Y). GPL unconstitutional? to share is unconstitutional? What kind of lawyer could deal with an argument like this? My conclusion: Sometimes, I wonder about the world we live in :S

Linux uses our intellectual property and Microsoft wanted to get the appropriate economic return for our shareholders from our innovation.

Steve Ballmer, 2006

IMHO: Excuse me? Oh! Mr Ballmer, I can assure you Linux developers are anxious to implement the “Blue Screen of Death” within the kernel. This guy Ballmer is a piece of work, isn’t he? I’m getting in a bad mood, but I won’t be seduced by the dark side of the force. Mom taught me that when you participate in discussions, clear ideas are most important than personal feelings, so, let’s look for arguments, let’s talk about innovation: What was the first web browser? IE? No! Mosaic! What about the Windows Vista/Windows 7 Interface? It looks a lot like OSX! What about the multitab feature of Firefox? Now it’s available from IE and of course, the list is long. So, Mr Ballmer, what about all the “intellectual property” Microsoft uses from other companies and communities around the world? My conclusion: this guy has a serious ego problem :P.

Quote #6:

There’s free software and then there’s open source,” he suggested, noting that Microsoft gives away its software in developing countries. With open source software, on the other hand, “there is this thing called the GPL, which we disagree with.

Open source, he said, creates a license “so that nobody can ever improve the software”

Bill Gates 2008

IMHO: Nobody can ever improve the software??? Ok, let’s see the GPL four liberties:
* The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
* The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
* The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
* The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements (and modified versions in general) to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

As far as I can understand, the freedom 1 allows to everyone to change (including improving) the source code. If GPL software can’t be improved, then it shouldn’t be any difference between the first version of the Linux kernel (310,950 lines of code) and the last one (11,637,173 lines of code). But there’s a lot! Just take a look to the changelog files 🙂
My conclusion: Microsoft’s disinformation campaign goes on.

Quote #7:

Linux is proving to be a stronger competitor than Apple for Microsoft

Steve Ballmer, 2009

IMHO: Curious thing, eight years later the Microsoft’s crew is admitting that Linux has reached an important spot in the market. First they laughed of free/open software community, after a while they attacked the companies behind Linux, then they fear them and respect them as competitors, and now they write GPL code for the Linux kernel. Strange world, isn’t it?
My conclusion: there is no such thing as a small enemy. History has showed to me that the arrogance of a big company can be its own destruction.

After reading all the these articles, I got tired (I mean, _really_) but I feel I have learned a lot about the software business: it’s tricky, it’s dishonest, it’s unethical but in the end, it gives you some important lessons about life, of course you choose what you want to learn and what team you want to join.
Curiously, the last quote I found about this topic didn’t come from Microsoft, but from Linus Torvalds and it’s very insightful to me. Take a look:

Quote #8:

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.
I may make jokes about Microsoft at times, but at the same time, I think the Microsoft hatred is a disease. I believe in open development, and that very much involves not just making the source open, but also not shutting other people and companies out.
There are ‘extremists’ in the free software world, but that’s one major reason why I don’t call what I do ‘free software’ any more. I don’t want to be associated with the people for whom it’s about exclusion and hatred.

Linus Torvalds, 2009

I think this is the most important lesson I can learn from all my investigation. Microsoft has been attacking free/open source movement for years, using dishonest strategies. That’s the way they want to compete and surely, that’s the reason why a lot of people hate them. But after all, hate isn’t a good thing. You can choose be like them or act like them, but I don’t. IMHO, Microsoft GPL code is pretty welcome to the kernel branch (impossible is nothing!) 😀

Maybe I’m too young to understand what’s coming up in the future. But at least, studying the past now I understand the present.

Time to sleep, I’m soooo tired! :S


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