The Washington think tank responsible for 'Linux aids terrorism' claims two years ago is at it again. The Alexis de Tocqueville Institution is now casting doubt on Linus Torvalds' authorship of Linux, and implying that it's a knock-off of Unix.
ADTI's latest atrocity appears to be following the pattern of the previous, where highly-spun and contentious pre-publicity preceded the publication of a decidedly rickety report. This time we have only a press release headed "Torvalds claim to 'invent' Linux probably false, says new study," and the promise that the study itself will begin to emerge on 20 May, when it will take the form of a "series of excerpts" from a forthcoming book by AdTI president Kenneth Brown.
Microsoft confirmed that it provided funding to AdTI after the 'terror' study (also written by Brown), but it's entirely unclear why anyone at Beast Central might believe that this sort of thing helps. According to the release Brown, producing "one of the few and extensive critical studies on the source of open source code... traces the free software movement... from its romantic but questionable beginnings... [and] directly challenges Linus Torvalds' claim to be the inventor of Linux."
According to Gregory Fossedal of the AdTI, the report "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, says the release, "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...'
"'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.'"
It seems pretty clear from the way all that is phrased that the study will not come flat out and claim Linux was originated by Torvalds' evil twin Richard "Skippy" Stallman in furtherance of his secret agenda to overthrow property via the Free Software movement, or that open source is all swiped from Unix anyway. But as we read the AdTI's words, The Register's extensive legal department can distinctly hear the sonorous tones of an English barrister's summing up: 'On reading these words, members of the jury, what might you deduce regarding the author's motives? And what would a reasonable person deduce to be the likely conclusions of the 'extensive 30 years study' it describes?"
Jury comes back inside five minutes, judge dons black cap, defendants commence thin chorus of 'You're going home in a Black Maria.' Brrr...
We hold no brief for the UK's defamation laws, but in this case it does seem rather difficult not to agree with our hypothetical barrister. The bona fides of Torvalds, of Linux and of open source are quite clearly being questioned in the advance publicity, and if the study itself doesn't turn out to back this up, then the only conclusion one can draw is, surely, that it is a deliberate smear. So we look forward to the study, and indeed to the book, with interest. ®