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Stallman and Salus Also Contradict Ken Brown's Discredited "Samizdat"
Saturday, May 29 2004 @ 03:30 PM EDT

More critical reaction to Ken Brown's "Samizdat", this time by Richard Stallman, who was inteviewed by Brown for his book, and by historian Peter H. Salus, author of the acclaimed "A Quarter Century of UNIX".

Stallman says Brown misused words to create FUD. Stallman is quoted in LinuxInsider:

"The purpose of this report is to confuse, to cause fear, uncertainty and doubt," Stallman said of a draft of a report by the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute. 'These people have taken money from Microsoft, they've tried this before, and now they're trying to do it again.' . . .

"Stallman also said Brown himself misuses words in the report to tarnish both Torvald's Linux kernel work and Stallman's own Free Software Foundation (FSF) efforts, such as when Brown alleges Torvalds didn't 'invent' Linux. 'You don't "invent" an operating system or a kernel, you write it,' Stallman told LinuxInsider. 'Copyright doesn't cover ideas; it's your expression of those ideas.

"'And the open-source and free-software movements are very different,' he added, arguing that the latter has a set of values codified by Stallman's oft-quoted 'four freedoms,' while the former is primarily commercial in its aims. 'By misusing those terms, it's meant to confuse people who don't know any better,' he said."

Salus, who is also technical and historical adviser to Groklaw's Grokline project, says Brown should be ashamed, in an article in UNIX Review, The Tide of FUD:

"Alexis de Tocqueville observed that it is easier for the world to accept a simple lie than a complex truth.

"So there's a painful irony when we're forced to recognize the validity of de Tocqueville's remark in a May press release from the head of the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, Ken Brown."

First, he points out that Linus never claimed to "invent" Linux. For that matter, Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson didn't "invent" UNIX either. Their 1983 Turing Award, Salus points out, was for "the development and implementation of the UNIX operating system," not for invention.

Salus elaborates and shows how UNIX was developed not in a vacuum but building on the knowledge that came before it:

"Knowledge builds on previous knowledge.

"Operating systems build on one another. . . . Dennis and Ken built Unics (its original name) on their experiences with Multics, following Bell Labs' withdrawal from the Multics project in spring 1969. Many important features (like | 'pipe') were suggested by or instantiated by others. Pipe was suggested by Doug McIlroy and coded by Brian Kernighan.

"For several years, UNIX was confined to Bell Labs. Then it spread to other parts of AT&T and, following the presentation by Ken and Dennis at the ACM Symposium on Operating System Principles in October 1973 and publication of their paper in CACM in July 1974, to research and academic institutions all over the world.

"[I don't want to go into great detail here, but those of you who are interested can read my A Quarter Century of UNIX (1994).]

"UNIX received input from folks in Austria (job control) to Australia (port to the Interdata 7/32). . . . At the 1979 USENIX Conference in Toronto, AT&T announced its new licensing fees, including $7,500 per CPU for academic institutions. This led Andrew Tanenbaum of the Free University in Amsterdam to create Minix.

'I decided to write a new operating system from scratch that would be compatible with UNIX from the user's point of view, but completely different inside. By not using even one line of AT&T code, this system avoids the licensing restrictions, so it can be used for class or individual study. (A.S. Tanenbaum, Operating Systems, Design and Implementation, 1st Ed., 1987)'"

I certainly recommend that Mr. Brown read Salus' book. He might learn something. He might learn that knowledge builds on knowledge. It has to. Thus, if SCO were to be successful in expanding the definition of what constitutes a derivative work under copyright law to include ideas, methods, and structures, I believe they will find UNIX itself would also then be a derivative work.

Brown tells LinuxInsider that the book's publication has been postponed. I expect they are rewriting so as not to get sued, but here is what they have said publicly about the delay:

"Current plans are to incorporate material discussing both Brown's responses to his critics and the impact of Torvalds' recent announcement that, in the future, Linux kernel contributors will have to certify the origins of their code before it can become part of the kernel."

I see Mr. Brown is already askew on his characterization of what the new policy is. What Linus actually proposed is this:

"So, to avoid these kinds of issues ten years from now, I'm suggesting that we put in more of a process to explicitly document not only where a patch comes from (which we do actually already document pretty well in the changelogs), but the path it came through."

They already know the authors of the code in the Linux kernel. Don't believe me? Just look for the Credits file on your Linux distro, and you can find the list of contributors yourself. What they are doing now is adding every person in the chain, including people who didn't write or change the code, but just passed it up the line after approving it. The purpose is to make it easier to find such info, should there be future SCO-like lawsuits someday and to reassure those stricken with SCOFUD. Here is the OSDL announcement of the tweak in the process.

Of course, the AdTI website still does not provide any of the criticisms of his "work", because the supposed links to statements by Torvalds and Tanenbaum still do not resolve to anything but an "Under Construction" notice. This is in spite of the fact that AdTI managed to add a link to an article about Linus' change to the code process, which was published after Torvalds and Tanenbaum made their remarks. I have no doubt the new book will be comparably incomplete and dishonorable, as I notice it says it will include Brown's answers to his critics, but it doesn't promise to include the actual criticisms. I have no doubt the book will be a beaut.

List of Reactions to Samizdat:

For the record, and so as to give AdTI a helping hand, here are the reactions to "Samizdat" AdTI can't seem to get on to its web site:

  • Linus Torvalds -- "Ok, I admit it. I was just a front-man for the real fathers of Linux, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus."

  • Tanenbaum -- "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."

  • Tanenbaum followup -- "I really think Brown's motivation should come under scrutiny. I don't believe for a nanosecond that Brown was trying to do a legitimate study of IP and open source or anything like that. I think he was trying to make the case the people funding him (which he refused to disclose to me despite my asking point blank) wanted to have made. Having an institution with an illustrious-sounding name make the case looks better than having an interested party make the case. . . .

    "I would now like to correct an error in my original statement. One of the emails I got yesterday clarified the origins of Coherent. It was not written by Bob Swartz. He was CEO of the Mark Williams Company. Three ex-students from the University of Waterloo, Dave Conroy, Randell Howard, and Johann George, did most of the work. Waterloo is in Canada, where they also play baseball I am told, but only after the ice melts and they can't play hockey. It took the Waterloo students something like 6 man-years to produce Coherent, but this included the kernel, the C compiler, the shell, and ALL the utilities. The kernel is only a tiny fraction of the total code, so it may well be that the kernel itself took a man year. It took me three years to write MINIX, but I was only working at it only in the evenings, and I also wrote 400 pages of text describing the code in that time period (also in the evenings). I think a good programmer can write a 12,000 line kernel in a year."

  • Alexey Toptygin email to Tanenbaum. Toptygin was hired by Brown to compare Minix and Linux code - "To summarize, my analysis found no evidence whatsoever that any code was copied one way or the other. (I realize that Minix predates Linux, but I did the comparison bidirectionally for the sake of objectivity).

    ". . .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 . . . "

  • Richard Stallman - "The purpose of this report is to confuse, to cause fear, uncertainty and doubt. . . .You don't 'invent' an operating system or a kernel, you write it. Copyright doesn't cover ideas; it's your expression of those ideas."

  • Eric Raymond - "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. . . .

    "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. . . .

    "Furthermore, from a very early stage those tapes contained material contributed by others in academia and various non-AT&T labs. AT&T may not even have had legal rights to distribute this code, and certainly had no ethical right to distribute it except as part of the commons which all parties understood they were co-developing.

    "Both these things were already true when the Lions book leaked. This is why the the Unix developers at Bell Labs itself approved of the book — they saw it not as theft from them but as a sign of healthy community, and knew perfectly well they were getting back huge amounts of value from outside contributors. . . .

    "Linus Torvalds and Andy Tanenbaum have both rejected your storyline that Linux is a derivative of Minix. Even if you suppose Torvalds is lying, the fact that Tanenbaum (the wronged party in your narrative) has condemned you in public for inaccuracy and distortions should tell you something.

    "If the inventor of Minix agrees with the inventor of Linux that Linux is not a derivative work of Minix, who are you to claim otherwise? . . . .

    "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."

  • Peter H. Salus - "Operating systems build on one another. . . . Dennis and Ken built Unics (its original name) on their experiences with Multics, following Bell Labs' withdrawal from the Multics project in spring 1969. Many important features (like | 'pipe') were suggested by or instantiated by others. Pipe was suggested by Doug McIlroy and coded by Brian Kernighan.

    "For several years, UNIX was confined to Bell Labs. Then it spread to other parts of AT&T and, following the presentation by Ken and Dennis at the ACM Symposium on Operating System Principles in October 1973 and publication of their paper in CACM in July 1974, to research and academic institutions all over the world. . . .

    "UNIX received input from folks in Austria (job control) to Australia (port to the Interdata 7/32). . . "

  • Jem Matzan -- "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. . . .

    "The concept of fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) is not new, but it has become such a popular battle tactic on the Internet that you can hardly read tech news anymore without seeing it somewhere. Ordinarily, most people recognize it for what it is -- corporate propaganda meant to stop a genuine grass-roots effort -- and ignore it. But with Samizdat we have a whole new kind of attack. Instead of aiming at the end-users and potential customers of the world -- which has proven ineffective thus far -- the target is now the United Stated government and those in charge of determining public policy. Having lost the battle for public opinion, the war has now gotten more desperate and moved on to attempting to influence the laws that we live by. This goes beyond the usual lobbying that corporations do because it's disguised as an independent study by an impartial third party and published as a book instead of a bound report, white paper, or traditionally published study (in a peer-review publication). . . .

    "The only shocking aspect of Ken Brown's book is that it contains not one shred or iota of evidence to back any of his implications. While he doesn't directly accuse, he also doesn't present any good reasons to believe that we should listen to him. The bibliography, for instance, has 81 items of reference, less than five of which are traditionally recognized reference sources. The greater part of Brown's sources are personal Web pages of people who are not considered experts in the field of Unix, Linux, GNU, or other related subjects, home pages of people who are considered experts but were speaking generally about the subject of the history of Unix, and quotes taken grossly out of context from interviews that Brown did not conduct or take part in.

    "You don't have to be an author or professional writer to know that when presenting an argument professionally, the strength of your sources is the strength of your position. With no reliable sources, a position paper, thesis, or essay carries no more weight than the Anonymous Coward comments on weblogs and message forums -- in other words, it's bunk. For entertainment purposes only. Read at your own risk. Worse than bunk, it's FUD because it pushes an agenda without presenting any proof. . . .

    "Any reasonably intelligent person would figure that such a bold endeavor as this book would include compelling and convincing evidence to give weight to the kinds of questions that Brown raises to cast doubt on his subjects. Appallingly, there is no evidence, no interview, no paper trail, photograph, or substantiated reference to support any of Brown's negative assertions and in fact most of his references do more to hurt his stance than support it. It is the worst journalism, the worst research, the worst case of abuse of the literary and technical world that I have ever had the profound displeasure of reading. Ken Brown would make Michael Moore, Jayson Blair, and Darl McBride blush with the kind of shoddy, irresponsible work that he's published in Samizdat. Truly this book is a test of the tolerance of free speech in America."

  • Tanenbaum's "Legal Status of Minix" - "Although MINIX is supplied with the complete source code, it is copyrighted software. However, the copyright owner has granted everyone the right to redistribute or sell it, with or without source code, in unmodified or modified form. For all practical purposes, MINIX can be treated as if it were in the public domain."

  • Toptygin's Minix/Linux code comparison

  • Minix license

  • Dennis Ritchie

To complete the record, here is their press release and a published remark by AdTI's Gregory Fossedal: "'Among the conclusions is that there is a high probability that Linux is a derivative work, based on previous operating systems -- including, but not limited to, Unix and Minux,' Fossedal told NewsFactor." Here is Wired's article mentioning Microsoft funding.

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