VMware wants amicable end to 'meritless' Linux-lifting lawsuit

Free Software Conservancy says Virtzilla 'flagrantly' used Linux code in products

VMware thinks it will be possible to find an amicable resolution to the lawsuit alleging it has pinched parts of the Linux kernel.

The lawsuit was brought two weeks ago by kernel developer Christoph Hellwig, who set the ball rolling in his native Germany. Hellwig's complaint alleges VMware has combined code issued under GPLv2 with its own code into products “without providing nor offering complete, corresponding source code for that combined work under terms of the GPLv2.”

VMware's now responded to that allegation, saying “We believe the lawsuit is without merit, and we are disappointed that the Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC) and plaintiff have resorted to litigation given the considerable efforts we have made to understand and address their concerns.”

Here's the nub of VMware's argument about why it is in the clear:

“VMware ESXi is an operating system that manages the hardware and software resources of the physical server. At the core of the ESXi operating system is a kernel called 'vmkernel', that provides control over those resources.

As with many other common operating systems, ESXi's vmkernel has a stable, general-purpose API called 'VMK API' that enables device drivers and other loadable modules to perform specialized functions.

Third parties can write drivers and modules that interact directly with the vmkernel utilizing the VMK API. And while these drivers do not need to be Linux drivers, when they are, we offer a compatibility alternative through a loadable kernel module called 'vmklinux', which in association with any Linux drivers, is loaded by the vmkernel and interfaces with the vmkernel through VMK API.

VMware offers vmklinux to third parties under the GPL and makes this source code available. For the reasons we've outlined above we are confident that our operating system is not a derivative work of Linux code and that we comply with our obligations under the GPL.”

Virtzilla's post on the matter goes on to say that “VMware has worked in earnest with the SFC to understand and address their concerns. We did so out of respect to the free and open source software community and we are optimistic that this can be resolved amicably.”

The SFC, in what looks like an unrelated incident, has updated its FAQ about the case to smack down address that VMware could remain compliant by implementing a “shim layer” that isolates its own code from that of the Linux Kernel. The SFC says this kind of arrangement is sometimes used to get around open source licences, but alleges VMware didn't try such a ploy and instead “... rather flagrantly combined Linux code in their own kernel, and evidence seems to indicate the work as a whole was developed by modifying Linux code in tandem with modifications to 'vmkernel' in a tightly coupled manner.”

Which doesn't sound like the SFC is ready to settle amicably. We'll keep an eye on the case. ®

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