Subject: Re: Technical Differences of *BSD and Linux
To: der Mouse <mouse@Rodents.Montreal.QC.CA>
From: Terry Lambert <>
List: tech-kern
Date: 02/03/2003 22:00:48
der Mouse wrote:
> In most respects I don't care much for the GPL, but this is one of the
> really good effects it has: it keeps people from using "you gotta
> splash my name all over everything" licenses on their stuff.  I just
> looked at the INSTALL.txt file from the most recent NetBSD/sparc
> release - a rough eyeball count found 79 individuals' names in the
> "legal mumbo-jumbo" section; I may have skipped a few or duplicated a
> few, but I'm sure the count is well over 50, probably over 70.  And
> that's not counting institutions, just individuals.  I consider that
> totally ludicrous.  (Hackerdom is a gift culture; you attain status by
> giving away, not by attaching strings.)  Given their common heritage, I
> imagine the other BSDs are similar, though I haven't specifically
> checked (NetBSD just happens to be the one I know well enough to be
> able to find the relevant file quickly).

There is a good reason for this.  It has to do with there not being
a legal entity to which rights can be assigned.

The original BSD code, with 7 or 8 exceptions, like the NFS code
with the Genentech Copyright on it, or stdio.h with Chris Torek's
Copyright on it, was all:

 *      This product includes software developed by the University of
 *      California, Berkeley and its contributors.

When people donated code, they entered into a legal agreement with
the University, in which they assigned rights to the code to the
University, in exchange for legal protection from tort liability.

If Copyright law were to acknowledge the existance of Public
Domain, by providing liability protection for authors whose code
was used by third parties, resulting in damages, then almost
every BSD developer I'm aware of wuld release their code as
public domain, instead.

Notice that the authors of the GPL, the FSF, have this same
legal assignmet ofrights issue with accepting contributed code
into their source tree.  All of the GCC developers have an
assignment of rights on file with the FSF, or they would not be
permitted to be GCC developers.

> Of course, Linux's use of the GPL ensures that OS hackers who want that
> kind of egoboo won't go there; thus, they end up with the BSDs, because
> there isn't much else in the open-source OS world.

This is actually incorrect.  At one point in time, the email
address of the driver authors was printed out in boot messsages,
under Linux.  They had a "flag day" in which Linus removed all
the printf's.  This flag day was actually commercially motivated.

The truth is that some people will piss on their code so that you
know it smells like themselves, just as some people in positions
of authority in projects will piss on contributed patches to make
it smell like themselves.  It doesn't matter if the project is
Linux or FreeBSD or TheNextGreatProject.

> Pity, too, because
> the BSD world has a lot to offer, technically, but it's shooting itself
> in the foot, socially and legally, by permitting this sort of
> chest-beating.

This is Richard Stallman's argument against the original four
clause BSD license, specifically the "claim credit" clause, clause
3.  There are three problems with this argument:

1)	It was invalid, for the entire time that CSRG existed,
	and there was a single statement that would have been
	necessary in advertising.

2)	The clause only triggered if you mentioned "feature or use
	of this software", according to the license.  So unless you
	went out of your way to say something like "New!  With CAM
	support by HD Associates!", or something equally idiotic in
	your advertising, you would not need to reproduce the "This
	product includes software developed by HD Associates".

3)	Most new software these days is contributed without the
	caluse, and uses a two cause a three clause license, instead,
	omitting the "disagreeable" clause.

> Arrogant and unhelpful as this is, there is a grain of truth lurking in
> it: nobody but you can ever tell you quite what the difference is for
> your purposes.

This is also incorrect.  It's like going into a sports arena in
New York and delaying a hockey game so you can get on the P.A.
and ask "Which is better, Catholicism or Judaeism?".

Many people can tell you very easily what the differences are,
but to do so would be to incite a riot.  People would defend the
shorcomings of their OS relative to the other, simply because
they already had an emotional investment in it, and the discussion
would not stay the course on the basis of technical merit.  Some
"peacemakers" would post things like "it depends" or try to give
equal credit to both sides, etc., and this would just piss off
more religious zealots.

The reason people generally ignore these postings is that the
postings are generally made by jackasses, with the intent of
inflaming enmity betwen the camps involved, and then sitting
back and gleefully watching the fireworks.  Rarely is the
question ever asked honestly, and if it is asked honestly, then
it's answered in private email, rather than on a public list,
where the jackasses would use it to instigate discord by way of
reposting the information provided, once it becomes outdated.

> But it does strike me as a singularly unhelpful way to put it.  The
> original question can - and in this case quite likely did - come from a
> degree of ignorance that doesn't even know yet what questions are
> sensible to ask, and while I can't claim to speak for any of the
> projects in question, it does seem to me that such people are exactly
> the people whom the projects need most to welcome.

And there are a number of people who have answered off-list,
and therefore off-archive, which I personally know about.  We
will see if the question was asked honestly when we see if the
private responses off-list are reposted or quoted by someone at
a later date, indicating that the original asker was merely
trying to create dissent.

> Of course, I've also seen it said (privately) that the original message
> could well have been a troll.  If so, it was rather well-done, and even
> if it it was, that doesn't invalidate the legitimate discussion that
> arose as a result.

No, actually, it was poorly done.  A well-done troll would ask a
specific question, addressing a specific perceived strength or
weakness.  It would also set the "Reply-To:" to cross-post, with
the "To:" being list specific, or "Bcc:" the lists, so that naieve
answerers would open themseves to criticism on the other lists, and
the people criticizing them would cross-post back, starting an
all-out flame war.

If someone were truly so ignorant as to ask such a blanket question,
honestly, they would ask something like "Can FreeBSD run on Windows
98, or do I have to have Windows XP?".

There's no way to be sufficiently aware that the operating systems
listed in the "to" line were different, and be clueless enough about
the religious ferver that accompanies each group, so as to cross-post.

-- Terry