Microsoft adds “Big Boobs” to Linux; apologizes

There are a number of relatively new phenomena in the server world that Microsoft has been rather slow to catch up on. Server virtualization is one of them. Where companies like VMWare and Sun (now Oracle) had pretty much already built the defining server virtualization software, with a robust hypervisor (software that lets you run multiple virtual machines on a single physical server) in ESXi, and a great general-purpose software-based virtual machine in VirtualBox, Microsoft made their own hypervisor.

And in traditional Microsoft style, their server virtualization implementation required modifying the Linux kernel to get it to play nice. Rather than emulating the system hardware in such a way that the Hypervisor does all the heavy lifting, they chose to use OS-level drivers to “get the most out of” the hypervisor’s features.

This isn’t generally a bad decision, honestly. VMWare requires guest OS tools to be installed in order to do some stuff too. Microsoft’s actual failing, in this case, was in employing juvenile dudebro programmers who submitted kernel code that included a constant for the upper limit for virtual server guest IDs defined as 0xB16B00B5.

That’s leetspeak for “Big Boobs.”

Red Hat kernel developer Matthew Garrett is not impressed. “At the most basic level, it’s just straightforward childish humour,” he wrote on his blog. “But it’s also specifically male childish humour. Puerile sniggering at breasts contributes to the continuing impression that software development is a boys club where girls aren’t welcome.”

Microsoft apologized for the “offensive string” on Friday. “We have submitted a patch to fix this issue and the change will be published in a future release of the kernel,” the company said in an e-mailed statement.

That patch could cause trouble for developers who use Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, which is based on Hyper-V, Garrett said in his blog post. “It’s especially irritating in this case because Azure may depend on this constant, so changing it will break things,” he wrote. “So, full marks, Microsoft. You’ve managed to make the kernel more offensive to half the population and you’ve made it awkward for us to rectify it.”

The really interesting thing about this is that Microsoft has become one of the top-ten entities to contribute code to the Linux kernel with all their contributions to the Hyper-V codebase. This, in itself, is telling, as Linux works great on other virtualization platforms without a huge amount of tweaking, so I am naturally very suspicious of Microsoft’s motivation for making such contributions.

Their time-tested strategy for defeating open standard and open source initiatives has been “Embrace, Extend, Extinguish” — claiming to want to help the standard, adding to it in such a way that the additions mean you have to deal with Microsoft to use the codebase, then eventually abandoning the codebase for a fully home-grown solution leaving those customers out in the lurch. They’ve tried it a few times with Internet-Explorer-only extensions to HTML, making it so some sites simply look broken on anything but their built-in browser. During the bad old days of the web, when you’d see little “best viewed in Internet Explorer” buttons on some websites, there was a good chance that Mozilla / Netscape would render the site as a complete dog’s breakfast. And even recently, I know of some large multinational corporations whose internal processes presently depend very heavily on ActiveX controls built for Internet Explorer 6, meaning there are a lot of very old and very insecure browser installs running vital corporate functions.

Given that history, coupled with little “easter eggs” like the Big Boobs constant, I find myself growing wary once more of Microsoft’s predations. Where Linux might traditionally be a complete meritocracy, with sizeable chunks of code contributed by women, Microsoft’s contributions have a very large tell about their internal gender balance. And what they’re doing now with Hyper-V reminds me all too much of those HTML wars of yore. It looks like they’re trying the same thing with Linux.

I don’t know what their endgame is, but they’re in the Embrace/Extend phase now, without question. Sad that it took a newsworthy incident like this brogrammer contributing to the programming world’s chilly climate to catch my eye. I’ve been ignoring Microsoft for too long. I might have grown complacent.

Microsoft adds “Big Boobs” to Linux; apologizes

19 thoughts on “Microsoft adds “Big Boobs” to Linux; apologizes

  1. 3

    I honestly found the “big boobs” code name hillarious. Best easter egg joke since someone found “bill sux” in an Intel chip. Can’t a geek have any fun these days?

  2. 5

    With the MSNBC partnership expiring, it reminds me of when the MSNBC website first got started. I was reading the net on a Unix box with Netscape and all of the quotes and apostrophe’s in MSNBC articles looked like garbage. Digging into it, I figured out that the pages contained Windows character set characters which were not in the HTML spec. I sent an email to the webmaster, friendly, not irate, pointing out the problem and citing chapter and verse of the HTML spec. While more diplomatically worded, the essence of the reply was “your browser sux”. I stopped visiting the MSNBC website and refuse to give MS money for anything. I don’t trust them at all.

  3. F

    Microsoft, in general, taken as a whole, can’t help itself when it comes to to something the right way or the better way. It has brief moments, but the popularity of its flagship OS is largely an accident of history and vendor lock-in games (plus the 3-E method and hypocritical patent trolling).

  4. 9

    I know some people see this as a harmless joke, but all the little jokes and oversights and objectifications in STEM really add up to create a culture that’s unwelcoming to women. It’s unlikely to just be “Big Boobs” inserted into code. I’m sure the programmers responsible for that contribute in other small but still significant ways to a chilly climate.

  5. 10

    To correct a small thing, Microsoft actually aren’t one of the biggest contributors of code: they just make more check-ins. Basically, they’ve made loads and loads of small changes instead of a few big changes.

    Matthew Garrett may not be impressed by Microsoft, but I am impressed by Matthew Garrett. That was very well said.


  6. 11

    Timothy: Well then! Top check-ins, but not top in code-by-volume, huh? That’s very telling!

    Another correction: apparently the use of B16B00B5 is as a signature, not an upper limit on guest IDs, required by Hyper-V from Linux guest OSs. This better explains how difficult it will make it to amend this code — because legacy systems would have to be updated for both the hypervisor and the guest OSs. That’s often not possible. So Big Boobs will live on for a very, very long time.

    Additionally, I’ve used 0xDEADBEEF as a constant in some of my own projects, usually as an error code thrown when I have no sweet clue what broke and none of the rest of my error trapping could catch it.

  7. 12

    And I’ve just had a look at the comments on Matthew Garrett’s blog.

    <rot13 reason=”misogyny”>Gur juvavat ol srzvavfg ragvgyrq cvtf vfa’g tbvat gb fgbc hagvy jr npgviryl qvfpbhentr vg. Gur pnzcnvta ntnvafg Navgn [Fnexrrfvna] vf whfg gur ortvaavat.</rot13>

    Now I need to go and shower.


  8. 14

    I don’t know — Linus himself and his top maintainers seem to be decent people (despite Linus’ notorious snarkiness), but the open source community contains a lot of seriously dysfunctional dudebro wannabes.

    Anyway, for what it’s worth, constants like this should never be used where they’ll be seen in public, and definitely not in API specs or open source code, not when there’s so many non-stupid/non-offensive words you can form in hex.

  9. 15

    I dunno, maybe this makes me a Chill Girl, but as a rabid Linux partisan, I thought it was actually kinda sweet. Like, hey, we think this whole rivalry thing is so silly we’re going to parody it using grade school calculator/hex code jokes. It’s hard for me to find it offensive when it seems to be so deliberately juvenile. It’s like snickering when an article mentions blue-footed boobies or great tits. “Heehee, they said boobies!” I don’t think we should equate feminism with not being able to giggle like twelve-year-olds at “naughty” words, because sometimes that shit is *way* more fun than it ought to be.

    I admit that I can also see an interpretation of this where it *was* intended in a misogynist way, I’m just not entirely convinced that that’s actually what happened, so it makes me a little uncomfortable to see everyone coming over so uniformly and uncompromisingly angry about it. And I say this as someone who’s normally all too happy to take a swipe at Microsoft and to verbally shred sexist douchebros. F’r ‘xample, that creep that Timothy rot-13ed above is unarguably scum-on-a-stick. With defenders like that, Microsoft doesn’t even need our services as enemies.

  10. 16

    I have to agree with Anne C. Hanna, it seems like a joke that could just as easily been replaced by inserting “u farted” or “I-C-P” or some other phrase that makes the 10 year old in us snicker. But I guess Im arriving at that view with a bias since that’s the only way I could make that joke. It could very well have been malicious and/or misogynistic at heart and I wouldn’t know without knowing the people that decided to put it in there.

    Not being terribly computer literate this did shed some light for me on why my schools email and other online services only work on internet explorer or dont seem to work as well on chrome as they do in IE.

  11. 17

    Check out the Hexspeak link @1. There are very few words you can build with the numerals 0-9 and the letters A-F. Hexadecimal is for storing numbers like decimal — base 10 — only it’s base 16, so the letters represent 11 through 16. These aren’t names of variables, they’re the contents of those variables.

    So, that said, they have tagged Linux — for good — with the guest ID “b16b00b5”, which means Linux has to identify as such to Microsoft Hyper-V or the server doesn’t work. Both the server and the guest OS would need to be changed to fix that, so expect it to stick.

    Would also like to point out that what others have said about the “tell” about the brogrammers responsible for that kind of code is very likely true. Who knows what other ways these asses make it a chilly climate for women.

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