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Accusatory Study: Many Open-Sourcers Steal Code

Accusatory Study: Many Open-Sourcers Steal Code

"Linus perpetuated the lie [that he is the inventor of the Linux kernel], and I have a problem with this smarmy attitude," Kenneth Brown, president of the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute, told LinuxInsider. "How did he develop so much code in just six months? Everyone else has taken years to develop operating systems."

By Lisa Stapleton
05/19/04 7:24 AM PT

The author of a study accusing Linus Torvalds and others in the open-source movement of "stealing code" and of taking credit where it wasn't due nevertheless says he is pro-open source and is calling for a US$5 billion government initiative to develop more of it.

The study, written by Kenneth Brown, president of the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute, will be released Thursday, according to ADTI. Brown said he developed his report by talking to about 100 open-source developers and experts.

"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."

Tooth Fairy and Santa

The report, parts of which have been discussed recently on the ADTI Web site, also accuses Torvalds of taking credit for what Brown sees as a "derivatory" work.

In response to earlier reports of the upcoming study, Torvalds recently e-mailed LinuxWorld to say, "Okay, I admit it. I was just a front-man for the real fathers of Linux, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus." The Tooth Fairy and Santa could not be reached for comment, but Brown responded directly to LinuxInsider.

"Now he's making a big joke, saying it was Santa and the Tooth Fairy," said Brown, "but 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."

More Vulnerable to Security Threats?

Brown said he sees a direct link between the "hybrid" history of Linux and what he calls "stealing code," and it is this general attitude that also led to the hacking of the ADTI site on Tuesday and Wednesday morning, he said. "Now they're resorting to criminal activity," he alleged.

ADTI also criticizes open-source code for being more vulnerable to security threats than closed-source code -- a claim disputed by many analysts and computer scientists. "That's bogus," said John Pescatore, vice president and research fellow at Gartner, a research firm headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut.

"Open-source code gets secure faster than proprietary code for a variety of reasons," Pescatore said in an interview with LinuxInsider on Tuesday. "Other people find problems that get fixed ... and programmers write code differently when they know the whole world will be looking at it."

Brown Linked to Microsoft

As for originality, said Pescatore, operating systems evolve over time, often using variations on older ideas. "NT owes a debt to VMS, which has a lot of Unix-like structures," he said.

Ultimately, Pescatore added, people are looking for reliable operating systems at the lowest possible price. "That's how Microsoft did it," he said.

ADTI accepts money from Microsoft, but Brown refuses to say how much. "We don't talk about money with anybody ... but we'll accept money from anybody," he said.


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