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Breaking News: Linus Torvalds Isn't the "Father of Linux," Claims Headline-Seeking Study

Institute challenges "parentage" of Linux

  • Read yesterday's immediate response by Linus Torvalds to this AdTI report - LinuxWorld Exclusive: Linus Discloses *Real* Fathers of Linux

    There are lies, damn lies...and then there are press releases.

    In the last-named category falls the following absurdity blasted out to the world on Friday by the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution (AdTI), founded in 1988 and devoted, according to its Web site, to keeping up the tradition of de Tocqueville's "omnicurious style of journalism."

    In keeping with LinuxWorld tradition we will allow our readers to make up their own minds, by bringing the news release here in full:

    Torvalds claim to "invent" Linux® probably false, says new study

    May 14, 2004

    Washington, DC -- Popular but controversial "open source" computer software, generally contributed on a volunteer basis, is often taken or adapted from material owned by other companies and individuals, a study by the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution finds.

    In one of the few extensive and critical studies on the source of open source code, Kenneth Brown, president of AdTI, traces the free software movement over three decades -- from its romantic but questionable beginnings, through its evolution to a commercial effort that draws on unpaid contributions from thousands of programmers.

    Among other points, the study directly challenges Linus Torvalds' claim to be the inventor of Linux.

    Brown's account is based on extensive interviews with more than two dozen leading technologists in the United States, Europe, and Australia, including Richard Stallman, Dennis Ritchie, and Andrew Tanenbaum.

    "The report," according to Gregory Fossedal, a Tocqueville senior fellow, "raises important questions that all developers and users of open source code must face.

    "One cannot group all open source programmers together. Many are rigorous and respectful of intellectual property. Others, though, speak of intellectual property rights -- at least when it comes to the property of others -- with open contempt."

    Brown suggests the invention of Unix is an integral part of the Linux story. "People's exceptional interest in the Unix operating system," he writes, "made Unix one of the most licensed, imitated, and stolen products in the history of computer science.

    "Over the years, many have envied the startling and pervasive success of Unix. For almost thirty years, programmers have tried to build a Unix-like system and couldn't. To this day, we have a serious attribution problem in software development because some programmers may have chosen to unscrupulously borrow or imitate Unix."

    Brown's study is part a book he is writing on open source software and operating systems. A series of excerpts from the book will be published at beginning on May 20.

    Naturally we shall bring you both Torvalds' own response a.s.a.p., along with the promised excerpt on Thursday.
  • 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
    Paulus 10/31/04 04:30:56 PM EST

    It's quite old news, and Groklaw already covered it the last time:

    Here's the answer from some of the ppl Ken Brown claims to have spoken to:
    Swartz and Perens:

    Justin 06/28/04 07:32:18 PM EDT

    Ken Brown is a liar because people.. ehm. M$ paying him money to do whoring business..

    Facon^Crest 05/28/04 11:40:44 PM EDT

    who give a damn if an individual uses a free software or a proprietary software, its a matter of choice. Linux didn't forced you to use and adapt it, it didn't force you to donate. Its there, its fashion and its free. So why make the trouble of making contradictive statements? Its already given out for free, its up to you to use it or not, but dont any judgementary opinions coz you dont understand it! CAN YAH DIG IT?!? SUCKA!!!!

    pay for software 05/25/04 08:41:39 AM EDT

    Linus can kiss my @ss for helping destroy an industry.

    ZerosAndOnes 05/19/04 12:45:52 AM EDT

    ADTI mission is in opposition to the article posted on Linus.
    Check out its mission statement

    ps: Does anyone have rights over the binary number system

    WhoMe? 05/18/04 04:45:48 PM EDT

    I can't wait for AdTI's next press release discussing how Windows was merely an imitation of the Xerox Star. Yes, any time now, wait for it ...

    WhoBacksAdTItoWriteThisStuff 05/18/04 08:53:03 AM EDT

    If all this hokey stuff really is Microsoft working through paid shills, it is
    certainly would be a revealing admission they consider themselves pretty
    incapable of competing on merit. It shows a marked preference for subterfuge
    which appears to have earned a similar assessment of competency.

    anonymOus 05/18/04 08:49:21 AM EDT

    Hmm, I know this idea is not very popular but...

    No, Linus did not 'father' Linux when it comes to ideas initially, he does when
    it coems to code and to implementing those ideas.

    Going from there to claiming he stole them is way too far tho, at that time
    those ideas were well known and tought in schools and universities and had been
    for a while really. They were also widely documented in many books, including
    books from the peopel that this institute claims to have interviewed.

    I think it is important however to se that distinction. This argument is going
    to be repeated, and possibly by someone who does a better job at it

    I for one would be interested to hear what Linus himself has to say about it. I
    never caught him on being untrustworthy or lying, I do think I caught him a few
    times on not caring too much about such claims, and somehow my feeling says that
    he'd answer along the lines of 'I fathered the initial code, and we did the
    rest' and lay no claims to the ideas.

    sarose 05/18/04 02:06:30 AM EDT

    Kenneth who named linux.. who has contributed enormous time to build the first complete kernel compile from GNU tools. who annouced the first kernel? and for that who should be credited as a father linux?

    sarose 05/18/04 02:06:08 AM EDT

    Kenneth who named linux.. who has contributed enormous time to build the first complete kernel compile from GNU tools. who annouced the first kernel? and for that who should be credited as a father linux?

    Tyler Jensen 05/17/04 10:56:39 AM EDT

    Linus did imitate Unix as the press release charges, but the idea that imitation is "unscrupulous" is absurd. Word imitated Word Perfect. Excel imitated Lotus 1-2-3. Etcetera. I'm usually the first to question some of the more outrageous claims from the Linux community, so I feel compelled to blast such a transparent attempt to sully Mr. Torvald's name. Not even SCO has made such a claim. If Kenneth Brown wishes to make such claims, he definitely should be showing the evidence at the same time. To shamelessly make the claim only to sell more copies of his books or reports is unethical and immoral. At least SCO chose a forum sanctioned by the law in which to make it's claims. Unless Mr. Brown can back up his claims with evidence, he may very well find himself on the wrong side of the law.

    Sue Kenneth 05/17/04 09:07:55 AM EDT

    Who has heard of the Linux Mark Institute - couldn't it sue these AdTI idiots?

    Here's the LMI's mission:

    The Linux Mark Institute ("LMI") is an organization established on behalf of the Linux® operating system community for the specific purpose of providing a simple means of licensing or sublicensing the use of the Linux registered trademark for use in connection with software and computer products, and other miscellaneous products related to the promotion of Linux. LMI is not designed to generate profits for anyone which is why Torvalds has given LMI primary sub-license rights for the mark. Its purpose is to protect legitimate uses of the LINUX trademark without burdening Linus Torvalds or any one entity with the financial responsibility of protecting the LINUX community's use of the mark.

    SIR Linus 05/17/04 09:05:28 AM EDT

    Linus maybe needed an SIR - i.e., a non-profit that will work with Open Source developers to file Statutory Invention Registrations than can be used to prevent some of the patently silly behavior that's been going on recently.

    I understand the process is cheaper than doing a full blown patent so it may not be as unreachable as it seems.

    See: Types of Patents

    B.S. 05/17/04 09:00:57 AM EDT

    Alexis de Tocqueville was a jackass and the institute that bears his name doesn't seem much better.

    saden1 05/17/04 08:59:01 AM EDT

    The Alexis de Tocqueville Institute is just a laughingstock of an institute that wants to be taken seriously.

    True That (NOT) 05/17/04 08:56:36 AM EDT

    The AdTI?!! This was the group that told us first that closed source was more secure than open source, and then "Open source software, also described as free software, is the neutron bomb of IP" - eugh!

    13Echo 05/17/04 08:53:51 AM EDT

    I think many people fail to understand the value in free software in relation to the work that is involved in distributing it.

    Patrick Volkerding doesn't require that you buy Slackware to use it. Nevetheless, I send him a $40 "donation" every year or two because I value his work in putting it together, and I hope that it coaxes him to continue the effort into the future. He mentions that his work on Slackware has always been a profitable endeavor since day one, even if it is on a small scale compared to other software products out there.

    There are reasons for paying for something that's free. It's called "My ass is too lazy to download, compile, and configure an entire OS and its programs". Some people can't understand this concept because they've never understood anything other than traditional business models.

    spitzak 05/17/04 08:51:21 AM EDT

    People say free software isn't capitalism, but free software IS capitalism. Everybody writing it is writing for entirely selfish purposes. Not every reward is money. I would estimate 99% of free software is written to boost the writer's ego and to gain admiration, and perhaps even to advertise their talents and get paid. Maybe 1% is written by somebody literally thinking they are improving the world.

    The GPL is explicitly designed so that a persons creative efforts continue to belong to them, while still allowing maximum exposure and distribution and advertising.

    If free software was not capitalism, it would be public domain.

    Penance 05/17/04 08:47:47 AM EDT

    Perhaps then the de Tocqueville Institute will produce a report on how illegally maintained monopolies can hurt the computer industry?

    For the Record 05/17/04 08:29:09 AM EDT

    A famous Wired article called "Did MS Pay for Open-Source Scare?" 'outed' the AdTI a year ago. Here's the key passage:

    A Microsoft spokesman confirmed that Microsoft provides funding to the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution.

    "We support a diverse array of public policy organizations with which we share a common interest or public policy agenda such as the de Tocqueville Institution," the spokesman wrote in an e-mail.

    Microsoft did not respond to requests for comment on whether the company directly sponsored the debate paper. De Tocqueville Institute president Ken Brown and chairman Gregory Fossedal refused to comment on whether Microsoft sponsored the report.

    "It is not our policy to comment on supporters; I'm sure you can understand. From this you should not infer that information you have is correct or not correct; we just don't comment," Fossedal wrote in an e-mail.

    "These folks really need to be more straight-forward about this," security researcher Richard Smith said. "Not commenting makes it appear as if they have something to hide."

    Trailer435 05/17/04 08:25:51 AM EDT

    as Clinton would say, "it all depends on what the meaning of 'invent' is"

    MakeUpYourMind 05/17/04 08:24:23 AM EDT

    Interesting how the AdTI disses Linus yet in its release carefully respects the Linux trademark owned by...Linus Torvalds.

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