Microsoft’s BSD support

On the NetBSD blog you’ll find an announcement that Microsoft has donated working code to support an experimental hardware platform to NetBSD.

Microsoft has a mixed relationship with open source software. There’s the perennial discussions about Windows using BSD’s TCP/IP stack, .NET for FreeBSD, Microsoft buying and killing a NetBSD-based phone, and any amount of blather ranging from the absurd to the paranoid. What makes this different?

First, it’s a gift. No strings attached — the BSD license doesn’t support strings. Copyright has been assigned to the NetBSD Foundation. It’s ours now, and there’s nothing Microsoft — or anyone — can do to take it back.

Second, the extensible MIPS hardware can be reconfigured in software to support application-specific tasks. This is cool. I’m sure that someone will tell me that this was done twenty years ago and that the prior work has been unfairly ignored since, and someone else will tell me that this is really no big deal, but it sure sounds interesting to my uneducated ears.

Third, NetBSD support will help get extensible MIPS running on other BSD platforms, and to a lesser extent on other operating systems. If the hardware ever becomes widespread, that is.

I doubt that this means any sea change in Microsoft’s relationship with open source. This code is of limited use today, given the scarcity of hardware. Microsoft Research offering eMIPS patches would not surprise me, but there’s a difference between cooperation in research and cooperation anywhere else.