The GPL self-destruct mechanism that is killing Linux
Festering hacks, endlessly copied and pasted - thanks Eric!
Analysis Does one of the biggest-ever revolutions in software, open source, contain the seeds of its own decay and destruction?
Poul-Henning Kamp, a noted FreeBSD developer and creator of the Varnish web-server cache, wrote this year that the open-source world's bazaar development model - described in Eric Raymond's book The Cathedral and the Bazaar - has created an "embarrassing mess" of software.
For anyone who hasn't flicked through ESR's essay, the bazaar represents software development done in public, as seen with the Linux kernel, while the cathedral model describes coding behind closed doors although the source code is made public with each new version.
"A pile of old festering hacks, endlessly copied and pasted by a clueless generation of IT 'professionals' who wouldn't recognise sound IT architecture if you hit them over the head with it," was Kamp's summary of the bazaar model after laying into baffling tool autoconf.
"Under this embarrassing mess lies the ruins of the beautiful cathedral of Unix, deservedly famous for its simplicity of design, its economy of features, and its elegance of execution," he wrote in a piece titled A generation lost in the Bazaar.
With major Linux updates due in October and this month (such as Ubuntu 12.10 and Fedora 18) and with the Beast of Redmond spitting out a platform shift with Windows 8, it's worth considering: is open-source software doomed to a fate of facsimile, and are there any ways around it?
By the end of the 1980s, things were looking bad for Unix. AT&T's former skunkworks project had metastasised into dozens of competing products from all the major computer manufacturers, plus clones and academic versions, all slightly different and subtly incompatible - sometimes even multiple different versions from a single manufacturer.
Richard Stallman's GNU Project to create a free alternative to Unix was moving ahead, but it hadn't produced a complete operating system because it didn't have a kernel. BSD was struggling to free itself from the binding vestiges of AT&T code and as a result also wasn't a completely free operating system.
To escape from the hell of competing proprietary products, programmers should share their code under licences that compelled others to share it too.
Meanwhile, the IBM PC was quietly taking over, growing in power and capabilities. IBM had crippled its OS/2 product by mandating that it ran on Intel's 286 processor. This was a chip that hamstrung an operating system's ability to multitask existing DOS programs - even though OS/2 came out after Intel introduced the superior 386 processor, which could easily handle multiple "real mode" DOS apps.
The field was wide open for Microsoft, which had already had an accidental hit with Windows 3. Microsoft hired DEC's genius coder Dave Cutler and set him to rescuing the "Portable OS/2" project. The result was Windows NT: the DOS-based Windows 3 and its successors bought Microsoft enough time to get the new kernel working, and today it runs on about 90 per cent of all desktop computers.
But Windows didn't dominate the entire market. It has two rivals, and both are some flavour of Unix and have free software in their DNA: On one hand, there's Apple with Mac OS X and iOS - close relatives and both built on Apple's Darwin OS, which uses bits and pieces from BSD and free software projects. On the other is GNU/Linux, the fusion of a free software kernel and the GNU Project's array of tools and programs.
Note the careful use of the term free software, not "open source"; the latter being a corporate-friendly term that came later and it's not quite the same thing as free software. The ideals laid down by the GNU Project's Richard Stallman in 1983 are what made BSD and Linux possible: that to escape from the hell of competing proprietary products, programmers should share their code under licences that compelled others to share it too. It's an agreement that forces people to confer their rights to others - so the GNU calls it "copyleft" as it uses copyright law to drive the licence.
The problem is that not everyone shares nicely. Some people will do the minimum they can to comply with the rules. BSD has one of the original idealistic free software licences; it permits use of the code so long as a small credit is included somewhere, so many bits of BSD-licensed software are lifted for free and hidden away inside commercial products - and any changes made to the source don't have to be given back.
Next page: Free software: A virus in Microsoft's eyes
And your point is?
I can't really get a handle on where the article is supposed to lead me.
Linux is running on more machines worldwide than just about anything else. Just Android smartphones, TomTom navigation devices, various set-top-boxes and smart-TV's outnumber the only operating system ordinary people have ever heard of (Windows). BSDs? I'd be hard pressed (apart from certain parts that made their way into things like the Windows TCP/IP stack decades ago) to name anything that's really come from them. So it's not really unpopular in either in-depth-hardware-geek territory (who most certainly would have heard of BSD, and would use it if they could - because it doesn't require them to expose their own code - but yet hardly anyone makes embedded devices that run on it), or even just general usage in homebrew projects (Raspberry Pi, various handheld consoles, etc.). I don't get the argument you're trying to present there by suggesting it'll all go titsup.
And Linus is preventing Linux forking by being unique - so if it forked, who would do Linus' job in the fork? Either someone would come along (and thus Linus wouldn't be unique), or someone wouldn't (in which case it wouldn't be forked).
I've lost the point there, apart from suggesting that the GPL (*the* most popular open source license) is somehow corrupting. I believe that was its intention, so people couldn't freeload from it for their own commercial purposes and not contribute back (for hobbyist purposes, it has no real hindrance because you only have to offer your code to the people who end up with the end product of your derivative work, which is probably just you).
And quoting Tannenbaum is really the last straw - his own progeny MINIX hasn't been touched in years, barely runs any of the huge amounts of code out there today and is unheard of outside of academia teaching operating systems. He operates in a world of perfect mathematical programs and no real-life OS would ever satisfy those criteria and always be "obsolete" (and, don't forget, MINIX predates Linux and Linux is basically the "I can do that better" version of it that Linus wrote - I think he proved his point).
I'm not a massive advocate for the subtleties of open-source, I avoid licensing wars like the plague (seriously, BSD, GPL, or proprietary is all I really care about - even the versions don't bother me much), and I don't care for the personalities and their opinions much. But this article is a rambling mess that somehow tries to sow seeds of doubt about Linux with no, actual, real point to do it with. It's the sort of thing I'd expect on the FSF website, not here.
Re: And your point is?
"... you only have to offer your code to the people who end up with the end product of your derivative work, which is probably just you."
As far as my understanding goes, (please correct me or give other opinions if you can), this also extends to in-house corporate use. If a company decides to use Linux, or any GPL software, for purely in-house use as part of its internal operations (e.g. process monitoring/control, networking, e-mail, etc), and they develop clever modifications and add-ons; then that corporation does not have to make their new source code available. In asking their employees to operate the clever machines and systems they have developed, they are not actually 'distributing' the code (as specified in the GPL license), they are simply making tools for employees to use.
There are some people who argue against corporate use of GPL code by saying, " .. if we develop anything useful and clever, we have to give it away to the rest of the world, according to the license." I believe this is not true. They also say, " .. at least with Microsoft, we'll get years of product support." Hahaha.
I thought this article was about GPL
...then we go and invoke the old micro vs. monolithic kernel debate in the last paragraph. It leaves the impression of a hatchet job - [let's pile every bit of anti-Linux FUD we can find and throw it into one article and see what happens].
Differing opinions are well and good, but in the end the current state of affairs for Linux is that its use is exploding pretty much everywhere other than the desktop... so the title premise - that something is killing it - is provably false.
To the contrary, in the past few years I have seen a marked move on the part of server software vendors to closed, appliance VMs based on Linux and away from self-installed versions of their software for various OSs. Forking and the GPL make that possible.
You can do better than this Reg.