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Ken Brown Takes Off the Mask; and a Gilbert & Sullivan Parody
Friday, June 04 2004 @ 11:58 PM EDT

Ken Brown takes off his mask and publishes a response to criticism of his "theory" about how Linux was written which reveals his true agenda: he wants to get governments to stop switching to Linux. If they must use anything, he wants it to be a BSD-style license, not the GPL, presumably so a certain proprietary software company can use the code without having to give anything back, something the GPL prevents.

I have an alternative suggestion. Maybe government officials need to investigate instead whether a certain proprietary software company is legally misusuing its monopoly status by funding phony "research" about their competition. Are there no regulations on lobbying at all?

After that, then maybe they could look into whether it's an anti-trust violation to use proxy companies to bring IP lawsuits of questionable merit to slow adoption of competitors' products.

His theory, it turns out, is that Linus can't be a genius, and therefore it couldn't be that he wrote Linux the way he says he did. No proof. Just assertions. I read what he wrote and ask, Is that all there is? That is the best you can do? Linus must be nearly a saint, then, if that is all they could dig up.

I thought about how or even whether to write anything about Brown's latest. What Brown wrote was so silly, it's hard to even know how to answer. I feel a little like an "American Idol" judge after a jaw-droppingly bad performance in the tryouts. What do you say? It seems almost cruel to say anything. And getting into a "conversation" with him, with his agenda, is a bit like accepting an invitation to appear on one of those shows where the interviewer abuses the guest by yelling at him and twisting beyond recognition everything the guest tries manfully to say, despite being repeatedly interrupted, mocked, and demeaned by the host. You have to wonder if it's worth it. How do you answer something as stunningly off, and Alice-in-Wonderland funny, as this:

"Isnít fair to question the character and ethics of individuals that espouse contempt for intellectual property? Isnít fair to question their character, when the core of their business strategy is trust?"

See what I mean? Maybe he only writes for the clueless. Trust is now a bad word? We should quesion someone's character because they trust? Linus, of course, has never expressed contempt for intellectual property. Brown read some comments on the internet that he attaches to Linux, as if the community is some monolith, with one view and all ascribing to it. For example, he read an Eric Raymond commentary on Newsforge on the Cisco source code theft in May, where he wrote ďmaybe the theft will be a good enough reason for Cisco customers to check out open source alternatives." He uses that comment to imply that the community expresses contempt for intellectual property? Ridiculous. Open source code is a protection against the kinds of privacy/security problems customers of the proprietary world struggle with. Here is what Raymond actually wrote, and you'll see it wasn't a celebration of the theft, merely an observation that closed source isn't a good idea:

"The 15 May 2004 theft and publishing of the source code for Cisco's IOS router firmware could mean a wave of exploits against the critical router infrastructure of the Internet will be on its way. If that happens, it will be because Cisco ignored one of the iron rules of network security -- and experts the world over will be muttering 'if only IOS had been open source.'

"The iron rule is Kerckhoffs' Law, which states, 'A cryptosystem should be designed to be secure if everything is known about it except the key information.' Now that the source code of IOS is circulating in the cracker/phreak underground, we're going to find out if IOS followed that rule. If it didn't, we'll find out the hard way.

"What has this got to do with open source? Well, if IOS had been open source to begin with, we'd have a firm basis for believing that it passes the Kerckhoffs test: Open source keeps you honest that way. As it is, customers' first notice that it wasn't is likely to be chaos and havoc from router compromises.

"Claude Shannon, the inventor of information theory, restated Kerckhoffs' Law as: '[Assume] the enemy knows the system.' Here's Raymond's Reformulation for the 21st century: 'Any security software design that doesn't assume the enemy possesses the source code is already untrustworthy; therefore, *never trust closed source*.'

"Maybe the theft will be a good enough reason for Cisco customers to check out open source alternatives like XORP or FREESCO. And that's not just a good idea for router firmware, either. As the Netsky and Sasser worms pound on your Windows machines, ask yourself: 'Is there a better way?'

"Millions of Linux users already know the answer is yes."

Does that sound like a celebration of intellectual property theft to you? Me neither. For that matter, what's to stop some unethical AdTI operative from placing a comment on the internet somewhere, as if he were a member of the community, making it legally offensive in content, and then quoting the comment to attack Linux? You really have no way of knowing who left comments online in most cases, do you? Astroturfing is real. Such comments have no place in any research studies.

What to do with the intellectually-challenged or intellectually dishonest? After pondering the matter for some hours, I reached this conclusion: We need to learn never to speak to such people and not to answer their questions.

He warns he will be continuing to ask questions for his book:

"AdTI will continue to interview people within the open source profession about open source. It would be skewed and bias to only quote people that are anti-Linux or anti-open source. I have done this for years, and will continue to do so, regardless of what a source thinks of my theories."

What he doesn't realize, I think, is that no one who watched this episode closely will ever talk to him again. If no one will talk to him any more, his "research" results will have no weight with anyone. That is, I think, the best solution to writers and journalists who obviously have a hostile agenda.

Keep in mind that he apparently sometimes uses others to post the questions. As in, "Hi, I'm clueless, can you explain to me how Linus used Minix to write the Linux kernel?" Then they hope someone gives an answer they can quote as being representative of "the Linux community" and their views. First, they decide what they want their research to find, I gather, and then they go mining until they find it, or create it by stretching something they get until it's useful to their purpose. There is no reason to help him with such an agenda.

This is a radical solution, but now that he has shown us his purpose, I think it is appropriate. If I reverse engineer his writing, I come up with this: Microsoft is worried about governments switching to GNU/Linux systems. They want to destroy the GPL or persuade governments to only use BSD-style licenses. AdTI apparently decided to do "research" and come up with an "independent" study, to persuade those in government not to use free/open source software under the GPL. To do that, they figured it'd work to put a cloud over Linus, make officials think they might be sued for intellectual property problems he allegedly created according to their "research", and hope that this would do the trick. The response is at but it's OK with me if you don't go there from here. Or at all, for that matter. Here is why he says he published Samizdat:

"Samizdat is a series of excerpts from an upcoming book on open source and operating systems that will be published later this year. AdTI did not publish Samizdat with the expectation that rabidly pro-Linux developers would embrace it. Its purpose is to provide U.S. leadership with a researched presentation on attribution and intellectual property problems with the hybrid source code model, particularly Linux. It is our hope that leadership would find this document helpful with public policy decisions regarding its future investment in Linux and other hybrid source products. . . .

"The Samizdat report recommends that the U.S. government should invest $5 billion in research and development efforts that produce true open source products, such as BSD and MIT license-based open source. Government investment in open source development will accelerate innovation. However, increased investment should be in true open source, open source without any stipulations, other than attribution and copyright notification, not hybrid source."

Trust me when I tell you, this is by far the least objectionable of all his statements. He also says Linux is a leprosy destroying the economy and that FOSS, or "the hybrid software model" "depends heavily upon sponging talent from U.S. corporations and/or U.S. proprietary software". He also says that if Linux is used in embedded devices, the "value" of hardware will go down. Maybe he missed the memo from Microsoft/Sun, the patent regime partners: they are saying the future is free hardware:

"Now, President and Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Schwartz said, the company will be expanding that, seeking to position the company with a new business model.

"'In our world, you will subscribe to the software and the hardware is free,' Schwartz said, who was named to his post almost six weeks ago. 'Directionally, our expectation is that in fiscal 2005 you're going to see a rapid departure from selling hardware, software and services apart.'

"Schwartz isn't alone in saying that hardware will someday be 'free,' so long as customers sign up for multiyear software subscriptions and services contracts.

"Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates has said he believes that, within a few years, hardware will be free and that software will be bought on a subscription basis, rather than as a one-time purchase that must be upgraded routinely.

"'Bill Gates and I agree that within four to five years hardware will be free,' Schwartz told Reuters, who will outline Sun's belief at a Sun conference in Shanghai this week that the network - the hardware, software, storage and its interlinks - is fast becoming a commodity."

So, Brown is out-of-date and irrelevant. Eric Raymond has responded to the vision of the future of "free" hardware in an article entitled, "Free Hardware - A Trojan Horse?", by the way. Beware of suits bearing gifts, he says:

"The devil in their Free Hardware story is, at least at first, in the details. Anyone who believes a vendor is going to give away hardware under a contract that allows the customer to immediately strip off the software and repurpose it probably still hasn't faced the truth about the Tooth Fairy. There are really only two scenarios here; either the hardware will be so cheap that the customer would get no gain from the deal, or (if it has real value) the lease contract will have a clause requiring that it be used only with the specified software."

I do note that Brown did not respond to any of the points raised by Eric Raymond, Dennis Ritchie or Richard Stallman, or Linus himself. He writes some incomprehensible things about Andrew Tanenbaum. No one reading his reply would be left with anything but the clear impression that he has no basis for his attack on Linus or Tanenbaum, in my view. Now he says the book won't be available until later this year. So, I gather they desire to incorporate reactions to their troll. Another good reason not to feed the troll.

I would like to share with you one thing I came up with while working on Grokline's history project. I was reading Dennis Ritchie's history of UNIX, and lo and behold, he mentions that UNIX was written on Multics and was influenced by it. Real giants know that knowledge comes from knowledge. It rarely happens in a vacuum, particularly in science.

When in doubt as to what to say, a little humor may be the best. Here is a parody of Gilbert and Sullivan, which someone left anonymously on Groklaw, which is one reason I never listen to people who tell me to block anonymous comments, and because not everyone reads all the comments, I wanted to reproduce it here. I hope you enjoy it.


Gilbert and Sullivan parody

I am the very model of a modern hi-tech PR flak,
I'm very quick on defense but I'm even quicker on attack,
I'm educated in things literary and linguistical:
But history is not for me, I write the fictionistical,

I'll take your pay to publicize the high reflectancy of black,
But if I've interviewed you recently, you'd better watch your back!
In terms of obloquy and slander I can wax artistical,
But logic and integrity are to my mind most mystical.

(And logic and integrity are to his mind most mystical!)
(And logic and integrity are to his mind most mystical!)
(And logic and integrity are to his mind most mystical!)

I've never been deterred by inconvenient testimonial,
I twist their words to generate my document so phonial.
Though I know less of logic than a Lindon salesman smoking crack,
I am the very model of a modern hi-tech PR flak.

(Since he knows less of logic than a Lindon salesman smoking crack,
(He is the very model of a loony Luddite PR flak.)

I never learned the uses of the aneroid comptometer,
I need help reading numbers off a digital thermometer,
I couldn't tell the difference 'twixt a kernel and a general,
So far as I know, C is wet and Perl is just a mineral,

I couldn't write a kernel in six years and a sabbatical,
For someone else to try would be politically radical,
And even if he took a comp sci course in university,
I'm sure that Linus isn't even close to being smart as me.

(He's sure nobody's ever even close to being smart as he.)
(He's sure nobody's ever even close to being smart as he.)
(He's sure nobody's ever even close to being smart as he.)

I'm president of a prestigious research institutional,
We own three postal boxes and an address all confusional,
We're bound to please the people, and it's surely only rational,
The people that we please the most are those that pay the cash and all.

I know that only true proprietary thoughts are seminal,
I'll gird the globe to get the dirt on just one evil criminal,
Though I won't know where I have been or whether I am flying back,
I'll be the very global image of the new high-flying flak.

(I'll be the very global image of the new high-flying flak.)
(I'll be the very global image of the new high-flying flak.)
(I'll be the very global image of the new high-flying flak.)

I'm less concerned with morals than a Redmond sales executive,
I'll never take the pay unless I first know what results to give,
In short, in barratry research, defensive or on the attack,
I am the very model of a modern hi-tech PR flak.

(In short, in barratry research, defensive or on the attack,)
(He is the very model of a loony Luddite PR flak.)

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