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Man AdTI Hired to Compare Minix/Linux Found No Copied Code
Thursday, May 27 2004 @ 05:01 PM EDT

Andrew Tanenbaum has published the most remarkable email from the man hired by Ken Brown to do a line-by-line comparison of Minix and Linux, Alexey Toptygin, who summarizes his findings and posts them on the Internet:

"Around the middle of April, I was contacted by a friend of mine who asked me if I wanted to do some code analysis on a consultancy basis for his boss, Ken Brown. I ended up doing about 10 hours of work, comparing early versions of Linux and Minix, looking for copied code.

My results are here. To summarize, my analysis found no evidence whatsoever that any code was copied one way or the other."

When he turned in his work, he had a conversation with Brown:

"Apparently, Ken was expecting me to find gobs of copied source code. He spent most of the conversation trying to convince me that I must have made a mistake, since it was clearly impossible for one person to write an OS and 'code theft' had to have occured. So, I guess what I want to say is, pay no attention to this man. . . "

Eric Raymond has also answered Ken Brown's Samizdat. Another very detailed response here, on Newsforge, by Jem Matzan. I'll end your suspense. No, they didn't like it.


"In the history of publishing there has never been a less scrupulous work than this book. It's a stinging insult to real books and genuine authors everywhere, harming the credibility of all of us who write for a living."

Raymond publishes his email to AdTI, who inexplicably (unless the book is an elaborate troll) and foolishly sent him a copy to review:

"Judging by these excerpts, this book is a disaster. Many of the claimed facts are bogus, the logic is shoddy, some of the people you claim to have used as important sources have already blasted you for inaccuracy, and at the end of the day you will have earned nothing but ridicule for it. . . .

"The problems start in the abstract. Software is not composed of interchangeable parts that can be hodded from one project to another like a load of bricks. Context and interfaces are everything; unless it has been packaged into a library specifically intended to move, moving software between projects is more like an organ transplant, with utmost care needed to resect vessels and nerves. The kind of massive theft you are implying is not just contingently rare, it is necessarily rare because it is next to impossible. . . .

"Your account of the legal disclosure history of the Unix source code is seriously wrong. Persons authorized by AT&T did, in fact, frequently ship source tapes which contained no copyright notices — I know, because I still have some of that source code. . . .

"I began reading the excerpts skeptical of the widespread conspiracy theory that this book is a paid hatchet job commissioned by Microsoft. Now I find this theory much more credible. I can't imagine how anyone would want their names on a disgrace like this unless they were getting paid extremely well for undergoing the humiliation. . . .

"You claim that 'To date no other product comes to life in this way', presenting Linux as a unique event that requires exceptional explanations. This is wrong. Many other open-source projects of the order of complexity of the early Linux kernel predated it; the BSD Unixes, for example, or the Emacs editor. Torvalds was operating within an established tradition with well-developed expectations.

"'Is it possible that building a Unix operating system really only takes a few months —and, oh by the way, you don't even need the source code to do it?' Yes, it is possible, because there are published interface standards. I might have done it myself if it had occurred to me to try — in fact, I have sometimes wondered why it didn't occur to me.

"As for whether it was possible to produce Linux in the amount of time involved — it is never wise to assume that genius programmers cannot do something because the incompetent or mediocre cannot. Especially when, as in Linus's case, the genius already has a clear interface description and a mental model of what he needs to accomplish. . . .

"You propose that the absence of credits to developing countries might be evidence of some sinister memory-hole effect. The true explanation is much simpler: developing countries don't have Internet. There is a straight-up geographical correlation between contributions to open-source projects and Internet penetration."

There is a great deal more, and I encourage you to visit all four sites, to get the complete picture. Honestly, how incompetent must you be to think attacking Linus Torvalds' integrity is a good strategy? He is loved and admired internationally by folks who do understand the code, unlike Mr. Brown, and everyone knows such a man would never knowlingly steal anyone's code, period. Nobody else would either. It's not the FOSS way.

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