VARs: Microsoft using Linux drivers to boost server virtualization market share

Microsoft is using Linux device drivers, released under GPLv2, to make it easier to run Linux on Microsoft Hyper-V as a guest operating system.

If there is one major beneficiary of Microsoft's decision to submit device driver code to the Linux community, it's Microsoft itself, IT pros and solution providers said.

Microsoft on Monday released 20,000 lines of code, including three Linux device drivers, to make it easier to run Linux on Microsoft Hyper-V as a guest operating system. The company released the code under the General Public License, version 2 (GPLv2).

Microsoft is using Linux to help its cause in the Hyper-V vs. VMware server virtualization market battle, VARs said.

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"Microsoft only does things that benefit Microsoft," said Frank Basanta, director of technology for Systems Solutions, a New York City-based solution provider with Linux expertise. "They don't do things for me and you, so you can bet this is good for them."

Microsoft using Linux for its own benefit

"The benefit is you can, on Microsoft's VM, get the same effect you'd get from VMware or Xen," Basanta said. "And Microsoft wants to make sure you can run all your stuff in their environment."

Mark Grand, research systems architecht for Emory University in Atlanta, concurred.

"It gives [Microsoft] a foot in the door they didn't already have," he said. "As they've probably noticed, their future is not in operating systems anymore."

Despite Microsoft's rocky history with the open source community -- CEO Steve Ballmer once infamously said, "Linux is a cancer" -- this release of source code should not be a complete surprise, said Chris Maresca, a San Francisco-based open source IT consultant.

"One thing many people fail to understand is that Microsoft is not religious about its products," he said. "It's religious about making money."

As long as Linux operating systems and applications are out there, it's in Microsoft's best interest that they can run on its infrastructure, Maresca and others said.

Linux on Microsoft: Linux wins?

Microsoft is not religious about its products. It's religious about making money.
Chris Maresca
open source IT consultant

The fact that Microsoft chose to release source code under the GPLv2 is a big deal symbolically. The company has talked up Linux-Windows interoperability for some time, inked deals with Novell and Red Hat, and posted millions of lines of code. But until Monday, it had never offered any source code under the GPLv2, which the Linux community generally favors.

"Not to be too Gandhian about it, but it's sort of proof that [Linux wins]," Maresca said. "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

In that context, Microsoft could be seen as accepting the inevitable -- that some people prefer Linux and open source products over the soup-to-nuts Windows stack.

"If you think of a hypervisor as a kind of hardware, then as a hardware maker, you want every bit of software [running] on you -- not on someone else," Maresca said. "It's logical."

Basanta said this gesture also lets Microsoft position itself as responsive to customer concerns.

"Microsoft has to keep up the line that it leads in technology and is customer driven," he said. "More now than ever, things have to be seen as customer driven. Any vendor who doesn't do that now will suffer in the long run. When things turn around in four to six months, people will remember who pissed them off and stick with the good vendors."

Some open source devotees attending this week's OSCON 2009 conference in Santa Clara, Calif., voiced concerns about Microsoft foisting things off on people, but others were practical.

"It's good," said Joe Smith, a network technician at Chapman University in Orange, Calif. "It gives a lot more options to people…. If people have technical arguments against its inclusion in the kernel, that would be valid, but nontechnical reasons are not helpful."

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