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To read comments to this article, go here
Want to Laugh? Another Tall Tale About Where Linux Came From.
Sunday, October 19 2008 @ 11:19 PM EDT

This is so funny. Yet another "history" of Linux.

I'm deep into writing an article on the Apple-Psystar litigation, to rebut some of the absolute nonsense I see being written about it, but I have to take a brief detour to share something with you, so you can laugh too. I put in News Picks a couple of days ago the farewell letter of ex-hedge fund manager, Andrew Lahde, who is one of the few who predicted the current Wall Street meltdown, and one of the things he suggested was that great minds get together and come up with a new "system of government that truly represents the common man’s interest....This forum could be similar to the one used to create the operating system, Linux, which competes with Microsoft’s near monopoly."

This seems to have seriously twisted someone's neurons in a bunch, and here's part of Dennis Byron's response on Seeking Alpha:

Linux was created by IBM, HP (HPQ) and other former IT systems monopolists that realized that Microsoft was taking their systems monopoly away from them. IBM, HP, Digital Equipment (now part of HP), etc. had banded together for this purpose in the early 1980s while Linus Torvalds, the nominal creator of Linux and who now works for one of the groups IBM, HP, etc. put together for its trust-like purposes, was still in short pants. Ten years later, the consortium chose a small piece of software code, "forked" by Linus from some other code while he was in college, to complement the still ongoing technical development effort by IBM, HP, etc. to come up with "one Unix." What is today called Linux is the result of that one-Unix effort.
Isn't that hilarious? To be fair, those Wall Street dudes are likely under a lot of stress nowadays. If he needs a job, maybe he should write a column with "Paul Murphy", who also comes up with his own histories on the birth of Linux. I see a match. Or he could write for ADTI, methinks. They tried to allege that Linus forked Minix, but it's a lie. Anyway, Linus already confessed. The father of Linux is the Tooth Fairy.

It is sooooooo hard for traditional businessfolks to comprehend that people would write software on purpose because they want to, without an economic goal, and without the help and direction of the Big Boys. But they did. It is more than hilarious to contemplate the mental picture of Richard Stallman being a secret enterprise operative. That's who started the ball rolling in the '80s, by the way, not IBM, not HP, not any corporate entity. See what happens when you don't call it GNU/Linux? It leads to serious confusion as to the birth of the software the world is adopting.

I also find it hilarious to imagine any corporate counsel inventing the General Public License, the GPL, which was deliberately designed to keep greedo corporations and even individuals from being able to ruin the community's work.

And it worked! Thank you, Mr. Stallman.

To this very day corporations struggle to see anything good in the GPL, and they try to step over and around it at every turn, like Queen Elizabeth coping with puddles threatening her delicate slippers. Yes. All of them struggle with it. Some eventually come through it, some finally adopt it, but they never, ever in a million years would have released one byte of code under the GPL if they could have avoided it. Nevah. Let me tell you what really happened.

Here's what really happened, from David A. Wheeler's book Secure Programming for Linux and Unix HOWTO, Chapter 2's "History of Unix, Linux, and Open Source/Free Software":

2.1.2. Free Software Foundation

In 1984 Richard Stallman's Free Software Foundation (FSF) began the GNU project, a project to create a free version of the Unix operating system. By free, Stallman meant software that could be freely used, read, modified, and redistributed. The FSF successfully built a vast number of useful components, including a C compiler (gcc), an impressive text editor (emacs), and a host of fundamental tools. However, in the 1990's the FSF was having trouble developing the operating system kernel [FSF 1998]; without a kernel their dream of a completely free operating system would not be realized.

2.1.3. Linux

In 1991 Linus Torvalds began developing an operating system kernel, which he named "Linux" [Torvalds 1999]. This kernel could be combined with the FSF material and other components (in particular some of the BSD components and MIT's X-windows software) to produce a freely-modifiable and very useful operating system.

As you can see, there are no corporate helpers or pushers in its infancy or even the teen years. Here's Richard Stallman's own history of the GNU project. Might as well go to the source. He was actually there, so he doesn't have to make up anything. Later, there came the parasites, as Stallman famously called Caldera, and in better cases the enablers of certain features they wanted and those who certainly helped in marketing. And some, like IBM and Novell, have stood up like men to protect the code in court. But they were not there in the beginning.

Not even SCO tried to claim anything like that. Here. Read SCO's complaint for yourself. According to SCO, IBM first got involved in Linux in the year 2000. By then, Linux was in the 2.4.x series. Not that much of what SCO wrote turned out to be true. Just saying not even SCO claimed that IBM or HP was there at the beginning. It's fanciful. Like I say, it's hard for business types to believe that software didn't come from Microsoft heaven on stone tablets to us mere mortals, but it didn't. GNU/Linux comes to you from a large group of volunteers who provided the world with a lovely gift. And they made sure no one could abscond with it. That's the part some find so hard to swallow, but if you're a programmer or an end user, no doubt you see the benefit to you. If all you live for is money, you should probably be a hedge fund manager instead.

Speaking of SCO, it had a very ambivalent attitude toward the GPL, back when it was Caldera, the Linux company. That's what caused Stallman to call Caldera a parasite back in 2001. Here's where the former CEO of Caldera, now The SCO Group, Ransom Love partially agreed with Microsoft's Craig Mundie in 2001 that the GPL was bad for business. And his was a Linux company. Yes. Ironies abound in life, do they not? He decided a BSD-like license would be better going forward for most things. Business guys who are used to proprietary ways tend to feel that way because they want to close off the code and keep the competition out. Rob Landley wrote about the Caldera license effort at the time:

Richard Stallman created the GPL to fend off the monopolistic practices of AT&T and Xerox in the 1980's, and it works just as well against Microsoft in the 1990's. This is what it was DESIGNED for. As Eric Raymond said, it's a "stake in the ground they can't pull out". The GPL doesn't just put stuff in the public domain, it nails it there so it can't be removed.

The GPL is a very effective immune system for open source projects, defending them from proprietary embrace and extend attacks. The GPL is what makes Linux a threat to Microsoft, not the merits of the code itself or the amount of effort going into its development. That's just a contributing factor. Linux* couldn't BE a threat without the GPL.

Microsoft has recognized this, and it's about time we do too.

Amen.

But the GPL is also an enabler of a new model of development. Red Hat, a company that not only distributes GPL code, and protects it and understands it, but also makes a very nice living from it, explained it best in their amici brief in the Bilski case:

The open source model produces software through a mechanism of collaborative development that fundamentally relies on communication of ideas by large numbers of individuals and companies. To understand this model, it is helpful to understand how software is made. Software begins as plain text "source code." Programmers write and edit source code in human-readable programming languages that allow specification of software features and behavior at a high level of abstraction. Software is commonly distributed in machine- executable "object code" form, produced by "compiling" the source code of the software. 2 Since object code consists of unintelligible strings of 1s and 0s, software is effectively unmodifiable unless one has access to its source code.

A good example of an open source project is the Linux operating system kernel, which is one of the most commercially-important open source programs and which is a core component of Red Hat's flagship product, Red Hat Enterprise Linux.3 The Linux kernel contains several million lines of source code. A worldwide community of hundreds of contributors, including many employees of Red Hat, collaborate via the Internet in developing and improving the Linux kernel.

Open source uses a combination of technological and legal means to facilitate collaborative development and commercial exploitation. Typically, an open source package originates as a community-based project that makes its software publicly available in source code form, under licensing terms that grant very broad, royalty-free copyright permissions allowing further use, copying, modification and distribution. The Linux kernel, for example, is licensed as a whole under the GNU General Public License, version 2, the most widely-used open source license. In making source code available and conferring broad copyright permissions, open source differs significantly from traditional proprietary software. A vendor of proprietary software generally develops the software entirely in-house and provides only object code to the user under severely restrictive licenses that allow no rights to copy, modify or redistribute that code. Such vendors retain the source code as a trade secret.

The open source development model has proven to be highly effective in producing software of superior quality. Because there are many developers working as collaborators, innovation happens rapidly. Because of the many who volunteer their time, and the availability of the source code under royalty-free licenses granting generous modification and distribution rights, the cost of producing and improving software is low. Software bugs and security problems are quickly identified and remedied. Moreover, because users have access to the source code, those users can diagnose problems and customize the software to suit their particular needs.

The open source development model originated in the early 1980s. From that time to the present, open source software has been in a constant state of innovation.

It's scientific sharing of knowledge, and yes, it leads to better code. The other path leads to Vista. Use whatever you want to. Lots of folks want better code, and in that group there are many who also connect the dots and understand the value of freedom for the code, so that no one can kidnap it and run for the proprietary border with it.

By the way, speaking of corporate views of licenses, scroll down a bit, on that Love story, and you will find this:

Editor-in-chief Robin Miller reported on the Open Source Initiative board's vote to grant the OSI Certification Mark to two licenses, the Apple Public Source License, version 1.2, and IBM's Common Public License, version 0.5.
Yes, the eternal corporate quest to get a license, any license, any license in the world, as long as it isn't the GPL.

That same year, Love put out a press release [PDF] that reflects his struggles with the license. It announced that Caldera would release under the GPL AIM performance benchmarks, the UNIX Regular Expression Parser, along with two UNIX utilities awk and grep:

Caldera International, Inc. (Nasdaq: CALD) today announced it will Open Source the AIM performance benchmarks and the UNIX Regular Expression Parser, along with two UNIX utilities awk and grep. These technologies will be released under the GPL (Gnu General Public License). In a related move, Caldera will also be making the Open UNIX 8 source code available to members of its developer program who request it. Information about the Caldera developer network is available at http://www.caldera.com/partners/developer/. These announcements reflect the continued intention on the part of Caldera to progressively contribute source code and to provide ongoing support to the Open Source community. Caldera expects to release further components of the UNIX intellectual property in coming months.

The AIM performance benchmarks are industry-standard server benchmarks acquired from the former AIM Technology. By Open Sourcing the benchmarks, companies may use them to establish independent validation of internal benchmarking. For example, Caldera can independently establish scalability and stability comparisons between Open UNIX 8 and other platforms. Although the sources will be released under the GPL, the use of the AIM Benchmark trademark in connection with these programs will be restricted based on published guidelines to assure the integrity of these tests as industry standard references.

The UNIX Regular Expression Parser is a library function from Open UNIX 8 used by a number of standard UNIX utilities for complex pattern matching of pieces of text. By Open Sourcing this, along with the awk and grep utilities, Caldera begins a process of making some of the original UNIX utilities, upon which the GNU/Linux system was modeled, available as reference sources. This gives the Open Source community an opportunity to reference these implementations and incorporate the best of both source streams into future GPL implementations of these tools.

“Many in the Open Source community have asked Caldera to GPL these technologies,” said John Terpstra, vice president of technology for Caldera International. “We have now delivered these utilities and benchmarks. We have chosen the GPL license to directly support corresponding GNU projects.”

The Regular Expression library and tools will be made publicly available on SourceForge this week at http://unixtools.sourceforge.net. In coming months, Caldera will Open Source other UNIX tools and utilities, including pkgmk, pkgadd, pkgrm, pkginfo, pkgproto and more, as well as the Bourne shell, lex, yacc, sed, m4 and make. The licenses under which these technologies will be Open Sourced will be decided based on community and business needs.

“We are very pleased to offer much of the UNIX source code that laid the foundation for the whole GNU/Linux movement,” said Ransom Love, CEO of Caldera International. “In each case, we will apply the right license – GPL, Berkeley, Mozilla, Open Access, or other license – as appropriate to our business goals.

“Our intention is to steer the middle course in the public debate – it’s not a case of free or Open Source versus proprietary, but both, as the situation warrants. We believe the industry is evolving to a model where source code is freely available, innovation is nurtured at the grass roots, and businesses, such as Caldera, can add value as both product and service companies.”

Open Access to Open UNIX 8

The Caldera Open Access license is intended to give customers the ability to both reference and modify the source code. However, the initial release of source code will be read only, giving customers and software developers a significant reference as they develop applications for Open UNIX 8. In the future, customers and developers will be allowed to change the source code as long as they return the changes to Caldera. This will allow Caldera to maintain a standard business quality platform.

Open UNIX incorporates some proprietary third party technology which means source code for certain third party modules will not be available due to licensing restrictions.

“Over time the licensing and delivery of our Open Access sources will evolve and improve,” explained John Harker, vice president of product management. “Our immediate goal was to provide basic source reference access following the model of SCO’s source products by simply eliminating the license fee. We’re looking at ways to make this as streamlined as possible.”

The Open Access license is free, but will require a signed license agreement. Delivery of the sources in CD form will require a nominal media payment. Further details will be available when the sources are released in October of this year.

Open Source

From its inception, Caldera has shared technology with the Open Source community. Technologies that have been Open Sourced include Webmin – a Web-based administration tool, LIZARD – the award-winning Linux Installation Wizard, Linux Unattended Installation (LUI), Linux Installation Administration (LISA) and Caldera Open Administration System (COAS). Please visit www.openlinux.org to download Caldera’s technologies that have been open-sourced.

Well, well, they wanted programmers to see their code, then, and use it as a reference? Hmm. It makes a simple soul like me wonder how the same company can later sue anyone for "misusing" their methods and concepts. But the dream of mixing free software with closed off proprietary is a dream that dies hard.

The Caldera dream was to distribute the GPL code they got for free and fully formed, and then build proprietary junk on top, in a kind of subversion of the intent of the GPL. That concept of a blend of what nowadays Microsoft calls "mixed source" still lives, and Microsoft is dreaming the dream. But if what you want is the best code, developed faster than the proprietary model ever can, you'll look for GPL'd code, because the license guarantees that modifications are incorporated so we all benefit.

Caldera used to make publicly available the documentation to OpenLinux, which was also released under the GPL by Caldera, and while they've removed it from the Internet, I quoted from it back in 2003 -- and yes, I think there is a connection to my article and its disappearance thereafter -- and here's part of the history section:

"Linux was started in the early 1990s as a small research project by a Finnish college student named Linus Torvalds. Soon after Linus started his project, hundreds of others began to participate in its development via the Internet. A cooperative venture grew in which thousands of people were working together to create a new operating system. The inclusion of the GNU utilities from the Free Software Foundation (see http://www.fsf.org) and the release of Linux under the Gnu General Public License (GPL) furthered the spread of this work. The GPL provides that the source code to the software is released with the product and that no one can restrict access to it. Software licensed under the GPL license is sometimes referred to as Open Source software. With this type of software, anyone can examine and extend the source code, but all such work must be released for public use. Other licenses provide for inclusion of source code with its associated software, but to date the GPL is the most common Open Source license."
Unbelievable to some. Enraging to others. But that's really how it happened.

So, yes, the "history of Linux" Byron offers is very silly. So many histories. So much defending of Microsoft's proprietary ways. But since Byron wrote what he wrote, and Google will collect it, I deliberately wrote this article so that when folks search for a history of Linux and come across his silly stuff, hopefully they'll find this accurate information too.


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