Friday, 17 August 2007

"VMWare innocent" shock?

VMWare have been pretty much permanently in the news for the last few months, years even. I can't even remember when I became aware of VMWare even, it seemed so ubiquitous so quickly that I assumed it was just another techie toy that I had missed in my pursuit of truth and beauty through security. What do you mean I did it for the money?

Earlier in the week The Economist was getting all mushy about how VMWare were revolutionising IT again, creating another internet boom. Well, maybe when the bandwidth is available, eh?

The fact is, VMWare have been pretty lucky with their invention, they hit the market just when people were beginning to wonder how they could get more out of their struggling infrastructure without having to invest the same money all over again. Then all this Web2.0 thing got fashionable, you know, building things on top of things, and suddenly people really "got" what VMWare was.

It seems that VMWare may have forgotten however. Yes, like everything else on the market, VMWare runs on a Linux kernel:

"VMware uses two kernels that run directly on the hardware; the vmkernel and vmkmod - a Linux kernel. Because a computer can only run one kernel at a time, the job of VMware's Linux kernel is pretty basic. It's only purpose is to boot the vmkernel. The only way to load vmkernel is through vmkmod, and vmkernel requires Linux — which essentially means that when ESX Server boots, Linux is its kernel."

Very concisely put, and simple to understand for a layman like me too, thanks "The Register". Now I'm no expert on GPL or any of the stuff around it - which is why I did a bit more digging. It struck me that pretty much every device (yes I know VMWare isn't a device) on the market has a Linux core of some sort. Do they all pay royalties to Linus? Is it only when they become successful that they have to comply with the law? Does everyone already comply?

I know a few people will be saying: "Of course everyone complies numbnuts, you have to agree to the license before you can use it at all." I don't like those people, they're bad to me, and I'm trying to read.

If you dig deeper you find that "if your work is a derived work of the Linux kernel, then it must be released under the GPL. If it is not a derived work of the kernel then you can do whatever you want with it" i.e. if it runs on Linux, no problem. If it is basically altered Linux, problem.- from the Slashdot forum linked below.

As one contributor commented on Slashdot:
  • Wait for big, innovative company to IPO.
  • Watch as share price goes up 90% on a day when the Dow is losing 100 points. Feel bad I don't work for that company. Boo.
  • Blog about possible copyright violations that would surely bring down EMC or VMW. Make investors nervous. Buy low.
  • Profit.
I'm not so sure that it's that steeped in conspiracy, but it does put a different complexion on things. It's good that the Register and other publications print stories like this, because it gives conspiracy theorists a place to congregate. It seems that VMWare have been roundly ignoring all accusations of copyright/copyleft breach however, and if I were their company lawyers I would advise that too.

Sadly, much as I like a fight against the big mean ugly software superpowers as much as the next right-on left wing downtrodden sandal wearing hippy, I can't find a reason to prosecute.

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