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'ESR' Writes Open Letter to Darl McBride

'Peel off that dark helmet,' Eric S. Raymond pleads...adding that Linus Torvalds is backing him on writing the Open Letter

[The following open letter appeared on Friday on the NewsForge Web site, complete with redactions as marked. LinuxWorld readers can also read Kevin Bedell's recent interview with ESR.]

 

Mr. McBride:

Late yesterday I learned that you have
charged that your company is the victim of an insidious conspiracy masterminded by IBM. You have urged the press and public to believe that the Open Source Initiative and the Free Software Foundation and Red Hat and Novell and various Linux enthusiasts are up in arms not because of beliefs or interests of their own, but because little gray men from Armonk have put them up to it. Bwahahaha! Fire up the orbital mind-control lasers!

 

Very few things could possibly illustrate the brain-boggling disconnect between SCO and reality with more clarity than hearing you complain about how persecuted your company is. You opened this ball on 6 March by accusing the open-source community of criminality and incompetence as a way to set up a lawsuit against IBM. You have since tried to seize control of our volunteer work for your company's exclusive gain, and your lawyers have announced the intention to destroy not just the GPL but all the open-source licenses on which our community is built. It's beyond me how can have the gall to talk as though we need funding or marching orders from IBM to mobilize against you. IBM couldn't stop us from mobilizing!

 

"To a manipulator, all behaviors are manipulation."

I'm not sure which possibility is more pathetic — that the CEO of SCO is lying through his teeth for tactical reasons, or that you genuinely aren't capable of recognizing honest outrage when you see it. To a manipulator, all behaviors are manipulation. To a conspirator, all opposition is conspiracy. Is that you? Have you truly forgotten that people might make common cause out of integrity, ethical considerations, or simple self-defense? Has the reality you inhabit truly become so cramped and ugly?

I'm in at least semi-regular communication with most of the people and organizations who are causing you problems right now. The only conspiracy among us is the common interest in preventing the open-source community from being destroyed by SCO's greed and desperation. (And we think it's a perfect sign of that desperation that at SCOforum you ‘proved’ your relevance by bragging about the amount of press coverage SCO generates. Last I checked, companies demonstrated relevance by showing products, not press clippings.)

 

Yes, one of the parties I talk with is, in fact, IBM. And you know what? They're smarter than you. One of the many things they understand that you do not is that in the kind of confrontation SCO and IBM are having, independent but willing allies are far better value than lackeys and sock puppets. Allies, you see, have initiative and flexibility. The time it takes a lackey to check with HQ for orders is time an ally can spend thinking up ways to make your life complicated that HQ would be too nervous to use. Go on, try to imagine an IBM lawyer approving this letter.

 

The very best kind of ally is one who comes to one's side for powerful reasons of his or her own. For principle. For his or her friends and people. For the future. IBM has a lot of allies of that kind now. It's an alliance you drove together with your arrogance, your overreaching, your insults, and your threats.

 

And now you cap it all with this paranoid ranting. It's classic, truly classic. Was this what you wanted out of life, to end up imitating the doomed villain in a cheesy B movie? Tell me, does that dark helmet fit comfortably? Are all the minions cringing in proper form? "No, Mr. Torvalds, I expect you to die!" I'd ask if you'd found the right sort of isolated wasteland for your citadel of dread yet, but that would be a silly question; you're in Utah, after all.

 

It doesn't have to be this way. Sanity can still prevail. Here's the message that Jeff Gerhardt read at SCOforum again:

In recent months, the company formerly known as Caldera and now trading as SCO has alleged that the 2.4 Linux kernel contains code misappropriated from it. We in the open-source community are respectful of intellectual-property rights, and take pride in our ability to solve our own problems with our own code. If there is infringing code in the Linux kernel, our community wants no part of it and will remove it.

 We challenge SCO to specify exactly which code it believes to be infringing, by file and line number, and on what grounds it is infringing. Only with disclosure can we begin the process of remedying any breach that may exist. If SCO is truly concerned about protecting its property, rather than simply using the mere accusations as a pretext to pump its stock price and collect payoffs from Microsoft for making trouble, then it will welcome the opportunity to have its concerns resolved as quickly and with as little disruption as possible. We are willing to cooperate with that.

 

The open-source community is not, however, willing to sit idly by while SCO asserts proprietary control, and the right to collect license fees, over the entirety of Linux. That is an unacceptable attempt to hijack the work thousands of volunteer programmers, contributed in good faith, and must end.

 

If SCO is willing to take the honest, cooperative path forward, so are we. If it is not, let the record show that we tried before resorting to more confrontational means of defending our community against predation.

 

"Linus Torvalds is backing me on this."

Linus Torvalds is backing me on this, and our other chieftains and philosopher-princes will as well. Show us the overlaps. If your code has been inserted in our work, we'll remove it — not because you've threatened us but because that's the right thing to do, whether the patches came from IBM or anywhere else. Then you can call off your lawyers and everyone will get to go home happy.

Take that offer while you still can, Mr. McBride. So far your so-called ‘evidence’ is [redacted]; you'd better climb down off your high horse before we shoot that sucker entirely out from under you.

 

How you finish the contract fight you picked with IBM is your problem. As the president of OSI, defending the community of open-source hackers against predators and carpetbaggers is mine — and if you don't stop trying to destroy Linux and everything else we've worked for I guarantee you won't like what our alliance is cooking up next.

 

And in case it's not pellucidly clear by now, not one single solitary [redacted] thing I have said or published since 6 March (or at any time previously for that matter) has been at IBM's behest. I'm very much afraid it's all been me, acting to serve my people the best way I know how. IBM doesn't have what it would take to buy me away from that job and neither do you. I'm not saying I don't have a price — but it ain't counted in money, so I won't even bother being insulted by your suggestion.

 

You have a choice. Peel off that dark helmet and deal with us like a reasonable human being, or continue down a path that could be bad trouble for us but will be utter ruin — quite possibly including jail time on fraud, intellectual-property theft, barratry, and stock-manipulation charges — for you and the rest of SCO's top management. You have my e-mail, you can have my phone if you want it, and you have my word of honor that you'll get a fair hearing for any truths you have to offer.

Eric S. Raymond
[email protected]
President, Open Source Initiative
Friday, 22 August 2003

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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Most Recent Comments
Ken 10/05/03 08:02:02 PM EDT

Masterful. ESR has plainly not lost his touch. A powerful presentation of a worthy postion.

bengalborn 09/10/03 07:52:38 PM EDT

I think his point was to evidence OSI "pure outrage". On THAT I'm sypathetic, however presented.

JonB 08/27/03 09:58:06 PM EDT

It is a sign of the times I think when people are less than enthusiastic about the tone in the letter. It means that Linux and OSS have probably entered the mainstream.

There was a time when most Linux users, otherwise known as hackers, would have been openly congratulating ESR for his comments. Now we have elements of the community that would have preferred a more business-like and professional approach rather than what some would consider the flippant and cringe-worthy allusions.

However, it is the nature of the beast. One should expect a few rough edges in a loose organisation with a technical focus. Business acumen and statesmanship have not been a necessary pre-requisite up to this point. Of course, ESR may have been smart in playing to his OSS audience rather than the wider business community.

Mark 08/27/03 10:00:20 AM EDT

I tend to agree with "huh." Mr Raymond's ranting pretty much sums up the holier than thou attitude that gives the open source movement a bad name. Calmer heads will probably eventually prevail.

huh 08/26/03 09:59:36 PM EDT

oh dear god that's an embarrassing missive. I'm buying SCOX as fast as I can. Just on general priniciple.

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