VMware joins Linux Foundation--while reportedly violating the GPL

The virtualization company needs to give some answers to its critics who allege that it is in knowing violation of the GPL.

Today the Linux world broke out the champagne to celebrate VMware joining the Linux Foundation. I agree. It's good news.

What it doesn't resolve is the allegation that VMware is in active and conscious violation of the GPL. Some of these allegations appear to be well-founded. VMware's lack of response to the allegations is not golden , especially in light of its embrace of the Linux Foundation.

Here's the problem with how VMware apparently uses Linux (though there's still an open question as to whether VMware does, in fact, use Linux, the evidence points pretty strongly to VMware's use of the open-source operating system).

Products like VMware ESX Server and Citrix Xen Server divide each computer into one or more virtual machines. The virtual machines provide logical memory, CPU, and device resources to guest operating systems. ESX Server, like Citrix Xen Server, uses a hypervisor to mediate between the virtual machines and physical resources of the computer, and an embedded operating system (distinct from guest operating systems) to implement essential virtualization operations.

ESX Server and Citrix Xen Server both use Linux as the embedded operating system. This is where the trouble begins.

In both cases, the respective embedded Linux is installed as part of the computer virtualization product, and neither VMware nor Citrix support using the remainder of the virtualization product without the coupled embedded Linux. Citrix releases all essential Citrix Xen Server components, including the hypervisor, under the GPL and compatible open source licenses. VMware does not.

If true, this would be a clear violation of the GPL, and if VMware's ESX Server cannot effectively function but for Linux, then VMware has a problem. It's a convenient problem as it gives VMware a distinct advantage over the open-source Xen project, as well as Citrix.

But it's a problem all the same, one that should be resolved with open and honest communication. VMware can't hope to cozy up to Linux and its community without participating on the principles of transparency and trust. At present, it has shown little of the former and has yet to earn much of the latter.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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