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Tanenbaum Responds: Linus Wrote Linux, ADTI's Ken Brown Doesn't Have a Clue and Should Apologize
Thursday, May 20 2004 @ 02:11 AM EDT

Andrew S. Tanenbaum, the author of MINIX, has issued a statement strongly contradicting ADTI's Ken Brown, who claimed this week that after numerous interviews, including one with Tanenbaum, that Linus was probably not the author of Linux and that Linux was a derivative of UNIX and MINIX. Tanenbaum, while obviously still not a fan of Linux or Linus all these years later, nevertheless confirms that Linus wrote Linux and says no MINIX code was improperly used by him.

He gives details of the interview Brown did with him, questions Brown's knowledge, motives and credentials, and says he thinks Brown's problem is that he simply can't believe one man could write an operating system by himself:

"By the time Linus started, five people had independently implemented UNIX or something approximating it, namely, Thompson, Swartz, Holt, Comer, and me. All of this was perfectly legal and nobody stole anything. Given this history, it is pretty hard to make a case that one person can't implement a system of the complexity of Linux, whose original size was about the same as V1.0 of MINIX. . . .

"Thus, of course, Linus didn't sit down in a vacuum and suddenly type in the Linux source code. He had my book, was running MINIX, and undoubtedly knew the history (since it is in my book). But the code was his. The proof of this is that he messed the design up. . . . but producing a system that was fundamentally different from the base he started with seems pretty good proof that it was a redesign. I don't think he could have copied UNIX because he didn't have access to the UNIX source code. . . .

"My conclusion is that Ken Brown doesn't have a clue what he is talking about. I also have grave questions about his methodology. . . .

"[N]obody stole anything from anyone. Brown's remark that people have tried and failed for 30 years to build UNIX-like systems is patent nonsense. Six different people did it independently of one another. . . . I think Brown owes a number of us an apology."

I doubt Tanenbaum has accurately identified Mr. Brown's problem in full, but I am glad he has refused to be used by him to falsely accuse an innocent man.

Mr. Brown is quoted in LinuxInsider, naturally, at length. They are always first in line, it seems, with negative material about Linux, or at least that is my impression. I will let Brown express himself:

"'What I'm against is hybrid code, which is what is causing this criminal activity,' Brown told LinuxInsider. By 'hybrid,' Brown means code that has both commercial and proprietary roots. 'That hybrid genesis is causing people who work for major corporations to borrow and steal code . . . and to have to contribute to open-source code,' he said. 'It started out academically and evolved to something commercial. That's what's caused the problem. . . .

"'I want all of your readers to ask themselves, in the history of computing, has anyone else ever written an operating system who never was a licensee, didn't have operating system experience, and didn't have the source code? How did he develop so much code in just six months? Everyone else has taken years to develop operating systems.... Linus perpetuated the lie [that he is the inventor of the Linux kernel], and I have a problem with this smarmy attitude.'"

There's more where that came from. Mr. Tanenbaum has already answered this smear. Brown also says Linux is more vulnerable to security problems than proprietary code, which is laughable, and answered in the article, and he claims the ADTI site was "hacked". I wonder if it was /.ed and he doesn't know the difference? I don't know and he provides no details. He seems to me, judging from these quotations, to be the last man on earth who would know.

Update: Mr. Tannenbaum has a follow up statement.

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