Accusatory Study: Many Open-Sourcers Steal Code

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.

No Comments

  • That’s a pretty low blow, calling the thousands of programmers who work on Linux and other open-source software projects "thieves."
    Mr. Brown puts so much emphasis on whether a ‘non-UNIX licensee’ would be capable of writing a UNIX-style OS. I don’t understand how he figures that holding a license to use a particular OS automatcally determines one’s programming ability.
    Apparently, Linus wrote Linux while running MINIX as his development platform, which was completely within the terms of the license issued by Prentice-Hall (the publishers of Tannenbaum’s book, which included the MINIX source code and binaries) So why does Brown consider him a ‘non licensee?’
    Also interesting is how closely Brown’s remark about Linux being "a leprosy" [www.adti.net/samizdat/brown.reply.june.04.html] echoes Steve Ballmer’s comment of 2001, "Linux is a cancer that attaches itself to …everything that comes into contact with it." [http://www.theregister.co.uk/2001/06/02/ballmer_linux_is_a_cancer/]
    He’s hardly an unbiased researcher. In fact, he seems to be doing the scientific method backwards –forming an hypothesis, THEN making the research to fit with his idea, discarding the parts that don’t.
    Thus guy doesn’t know a thing about programming, software development, computer OS’s or their history, yet he deems himself qualified to write this book, the goal of which appears to be to slam the creator(s) of the main competition of Microsoft (a monopolistic corporation), and to influence the US government’s policies regarding them.
    Hmmm… what could be going on here?
    This "Alexis De Toqueville Institution" appears to be a mouthpiece for the interests of certain large corporations who pay for the service. Often such organizations hide behind illustrious-sounding names and the pretense of objectivity (calling themselves "Washington think-tanks") while promoting the political interests of their patrons along with a good measure of patriotic gobbledygook. Many such organizations exist in the nation’s capitol, and through lobbying, publishing books, networking people with like interests) play variable roles in US governmental policy.
    Their webpage [http://www.adti.net/] is rather telling; there’s a picture of Mt.Rushmore next to an article equating Ronald Reagan with Franklin D. Roosevelt (why? it is THEODORE Roosevelt whose face is carved into the mountain… perhaps they’re suggesting we add the visage of "The Great Communicator" to the monument??) Sheesh.

  • <i>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?"</i>
    Yes. Even if you don’t look at Tanenbaum’s response for a proper history, someone had to write the first operating system, and as such would not have been a licensee, have OS experience or source code. So the answer is in fact yes. (What an idiot…)

    • Anyone who has read Tanenbaum’s notes will have trouble believing anything ADTI publishes about Linux and software in general… After dedicating Mr. Brown’s views so many pixels, LinuxInsider really should also do a story about what Tanenbaum (and the other interviewees) think about the study.

  • I’m afraid Mr Brown already proved his ignorance of history. When Tanenbaum question him over his knowledge Brown admitted he didn’t know much about the history of Unix and T. had to explain even the basic spat that Bell Labs had over Unix many years ago. This is 2nd year computer studies stuff! He seems to have formed the opinion that Torvalds went from nothing to full blown Fedora Core 2 all-singing all dancing in a matter of months! Heavens, the first kernel could barely boot on most systems, let alone run an X-Window setup!! What a complete load of tosh!

  • Noted Computer Scientist Andrew Tanenbaum has some notes on his encounter with the author of the study here:
    http://www.cs.vu.nl/~ast/brown/
    Reading this you can see the study was created by someone who is obviously not qualified to be writing on the subject. I strong advise anybody to read the above URL before making any decisions on the credibility of Kenneth Brown’s report. Note that Tanenbaum is hardly a fan of Linux, but he wants to clear the air of the innacuracies of the ADTI report.

  • I think anyone who knows anything about Linux and Linus knows this study is bogus. I think LinuxInsider even doubts the legitimacy with the caviat about Microsoft. But did anyone else’s FUD alarm go off?
    While I have no problem with Insider reporting this (it is news, after all) it does seem to me like Linux Insider likes to give a soapbox for this kind of irrational FUD. First with the SCO interview flaming Groklaw, and now with this guy? While i DON’T belive LI trys to distribute FUD, it does seem that way to alot in the Linux community. Perhaps if LinuxInsider really wants to be a Linux insider, they should consider writing a story that sounds objective, rather than writing the article whoever they’re interviewing wants them to write.

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