Microsoft has amazed observers by releasing code that allows the Linux operating system to run on top of its Hyper-V hypervisor under an open source license agreement.
Drivers for Linux on Hyper-V, which consitute 20,000 lines of new code, will be available under GNU Public License, version 2.
The uncharacteristic move is indicative of two important trends. First is the increasing involvement of traditional vendors in the open source model of software development.
Having previously seen them as a competitive threat, vendors have begun to exploit open source development projects as sources of innovation, and to make significant contributions to those projects. For example, IBM has applied significant resources to developing the Linux operating system.
Microsoft, which has in the past been seen as the very antithesis of the open source movement, portrayed the announcement as a sign that its attitudes have thawed.
"We are seeing Microsoft communities and open source communities grow together, which is ultimately of benefit to our customers," said Sam Ramji, senior director of platform strategy for Microsoft’s Server and Tools division.
But this case can be overstated. The move is more a reflection of the significance of virtualisation.
Virtualisation has become a standard practice in corporate data centres, and the proliferation of VMware’s server virtualisation technology gives it the kind of pivotal role that Microsoft has enjoyed in the past.
And virtualisation in the data centre has driven the adoption of open source operating systems, as the removal of license fees allows IT departments to replicate machines virtually without having to worrying about the cost.
Therefore, to disrupt VMware’s hypervisor hegemony, Microsoft has to play ball with Linux and with the community that surrounds it. That does not mean an open source version of Office is likely to materialise any time soon.