So, is Microsoft Taking Over Linux?

There’s a lot of paranoid-sounding stuff going around the Interwebz about Microsoft “taking over Linux” by “buying their way in” to the Linux Foundation, contributing lots and lots of code, and there’s the famous “embrace, extend, extinguish” meme that makes the rounds over and over again. But is any of it true? Can a big, greedy, evil corporation actually take Linux over the Linux kernel and get control over many or all of the distributions and operating systems built on it?

Well, here’s where it might actually be helpful to remind ourselves that it’s GNU/Linux, not just “Linux.” Linux is the kernel, and GNU is the license it is released under. And maybe it’s that GNU license that can/is/will always prevent a “takeover” of your favorite ‘nix operating system. Consider:

For one thing, I highly doubt that Microsoft has contributed any significant amount of code to Linux (by significant, I mean that Linux would fail if the MS code were removed)

But even if they had, under the terms of the GNU/GPL license, that code is also free. Microsoft cannot stop you from downloading it for free, redistributing it for free (or even charging for copies if you like and anyone is dumb enough to pay you for it) modifying it as you see fit, and redistributing the modified versions.

Essentially, the moment Microsoft contributes code to a GNU/GPL licensed project, they lose all control over that code. It becomes GNU/GPL code. This might explain why, for all of history, there’s never been Microsoft Code in Windows®to access Linux File Systems like Reiser, EXT2, EXT 3 and so on… because adding that code to Windows® would have forced Microsoft to acquire GNU/GPL licensing on Windows, thereby making Windows “free software!” On the flip side, it was perfectly legal and still meets GNU/GPL code for Linux to add code to access DOS and NT file systems, as long as the code used was not a copy of the Microsoft-owned code.

Credit and thanks to fraterchaos@diasp.org for pointing these things out in this thread on Diaspora. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Maybe a little reassuring, I hope.