Amid all the tempest and turmoil here in the technology world, it can be easy to get lost in the details.
After all, with all the software patent battles, the endless debates over the Linux desktop, and a never-ending array of other topics to quibble over, who can be blamed for missing the proverbial forest with all these distracting “trees” standing in the way?
Events of late have provided an excellent illustration.
A ‘Notable’ Submission
“If you follow the Samba Technical Mailing List, you may have noted a patch submission that came in on October 10th, 2011,” wrote Samba team member Chris Hertel in a blog post recently.
“As often happens, a couple of developers at a company found a way to improve core Samba code,” Hertel went on. “They got permission to submit the patches under their own copyright and the terms of the GPL, and they sent the patches in.
“It happens all the time in Samba, and we are always grateful,” he added. “The only notable thing in this particular case is the company for which those developers work: Microsoft.”
‘That’s How Far Things Have Come’
That’s right, none other than Redmond itself recently contributed code to none other than the Samba project’s open source file, print and authentication services software for Windows clients, which is now a standard piece of most Linux distributions.
Microsoft has contributed code to other projects before, of course. Its relationship with Samba, however, has been tense at best.
“A few years back, a patch submission from coders at Microsoft would have been amazing to the point of unthinkable,” Hertel noted. Today, however, “most people didn’t even notice the source of the contribution. That’s how far things have come in the past four-ish years,” he added.
‘Freak Snowstorm Reported in Hell’
Did Linux bloggers sit up and take notice of this new milestone? You bet your GPL-licensed source code they did.
“Freak snowstorm reported in hell. Tea party agrees Obama is the best candidate for 2012 presidential election,” began Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols’ piece over at ZDNet, for example.
“How do you solve a problem like Microsoft?” was the headline over at ITworld.
Conversations down at the Linux blogosphere’s Broken Windows Lounge, meanwhile, revealed a diversity of opinions.
‘Kicking and Screaming’
“Samba is a fantastic example of what happens when a closed protocol becomes open,” consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told Linux Girl.
“Before Samba, SMB was only used for sharing files between computers or reading files off of a server, but now that it has become open it has expanded to new possibilities undreamed of by anyone,” Mack explained. “We have home-size NAS backup devices and we have media streaming direct to the TV, to name two examples on opposite ends of the client/server model.
“Now that Microsoft had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the Samba world, they see the benefits enough to want to expand on the project,” he added.
‘Another Good Sign’
“It’s good to see someone from Microsoft get the official OK to submit a patch to samba,” agreed Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site.
“It’s a far cry from when the European Union was putting the heat to Microsoft to share documentation on protocols so that open source could better interoperate,” Hudson added. “Of course, part of the problem at the time was that a lot of the documentation didn’t exist — which is a telling commentary on Microsoft’s development process. But I digress.
“Is it ironic that it’s a patch to enhance security?” she concluded. “Maybe, but perhaps that’s also another good sign.”
‘It Is a Good Thing’
Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, was also pleased at the news.
“I think it means a recognition on Microsoft’s part that their customers may want Samba to work,” Travers told Linux Girl. “It may also be a recognition on the part of the software giant that helping ensure the software works may reduce their support costs. All in all, it is a good thing.”
Of course, “I wouldn’t expect Microsoft to start endorsing the product anytime soon,” he added.
‘No One Needs to Use Samba’
Indeed, “M$ had to contribute to Samba because customers insist on using GNU/Linux, and if Samba doesn’t work, M$ will lose server market share and possibly clients too,” blogger Robert Pogson asserted.
“Fortunately, no one needs to use Samba if they don’t use that other OS,” Pogson added.
Finally, Slashdot blogger hairyfeet wasn’t surprised by Microsoft’s contribution, but he anticipated a chilly reception from Linux fans.
‘Windows Is a Part of the Landscape’
“It amazes me how many in the community have been infected by what I call the ‘FOSS Club’ mentality,” hairyfeet charged, “where anything that makes your life easier is ‘bad’ and anything that makes Linux harder is ‘good.’
“You watch how many will be spewing hate and wanting this code gone, even though all it does is make it easier to interoperate with Windows shares!” hairyfeet predicted. “Like it or not, folks, Windows is a part of the landscape. Wouldn’t it be nice to have as much as possible seamless between Windows and Linux?”
Ultimately, “anything that makes it easier for users to get their work done in FOSS should be looked upon as a good thing,” he concluded.