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.


Other stories you might like

  • IT staffing, recruitment biz settles claims it discriminated against Americans
    Foreign workers favored over US residents because that's what clients wanted, allegedly

    Amtex Systems Incorporated, an IT staffing and recruiting firm based in New York City, has agreed to settle claims it discriminated against American workers because company clients wanted workers with temporary visas.

    The US Department of Justice on Wednesday announced the agreement, which followed from a US citizen filing a discrimination complaint with the DoJ's Civil Rights Division’s Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER).

    "IT staffing agencies cannot unlawfully exclude applicants or impose additional burdens because of someone’s citizenship or immigration status," said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, in a statement. "The Civil Rights Division is committed to enforcing the law to ensure that job applicants, including US workers, are protected from unlawful discrimination."

    Continue reading
  • Will this be one of the world's first RISC-V laptops?
    A sneak peek at a notebook that could be revealed this year

    Pic As Apple and Qualcomm push for more Arm adoption in the notebook space, we have come across a photo of what could become one of the world's first laptops to use the open-source RISC-V instruction set architecture.

    In an interview with The Register, Calista Redmond, CEO of RISC-V International, signaled we will see a RISC-V laptop revealed sometime this year as the ISA's governing body works to garner more financial and development support from large companies.

    It turns out Philipp Tomsich, chair of RISC-V International's software committee, dangled a photo of what could likely be the laptop in question earlier this month in front of RISC-V Week attendees in Paris.

    Continue reading
  • Did ID.me hoodwink Americans with IRS facial-recognition tech, senators ask
    Biz tells us: Won't someone please think of the ... fraud we've stopped

    Democrat senators want the FTC to investigate "evidence of deceptive statements" made by ID.me regarding the facial-recognition technology it controversially built for Uncle Sam.

    ID.me made headlines this year when the IRS said US taxpayers would have to enroll in the startup's facial-recognition system to access their tax records in the future. After a public backlash, the IRS reconsidered its plans, and said taxpayers could choose non-biometric methods to verify their identity with the agency online.

    Just before the IRS controversy, ID.me said it uses one-to-one face comparisons. "Our one-to-one face match is comparable to taking a selfie to unlock a smartphone. ID.me does not use one-to-many facial recognition, which is more complex and problematic. Further, privacy is core to our mission and we do not sell the personal information of our users," it said in January.

    Continue reading
  • Meet Wizard Spider, the multimillion-dollar gang behind Conti, Ryuk malware
    Russia-linked crime-as-a-service crew is rich, professional – and investing in R&D

    Analysis Wizard Spider, the Russia-linked crew behind high-profile malware Conti, Ryuk and Trickbot, has grown over the past five years into a multimillion-dollar organization that has built a corporate-like operating model, a year-long study has found.

    In a technical report this week, the folks at Prodaft, which has been tracking the cybercrime gang since 2021, outlined its own findings on Wizard Spider, supplemented by info that leaked about the Conti operation in February after the crooks publicly sided with Russia during the illegal invasion of Ukraine.

    What Prodaft found was a gang sitting on assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars funneled from multiple sophisticated malware variants. Wizard Spider, we're told, runs as a business with a complex network of subgroups and teams that target specific types of software, and has associations with other well-known miscreants, including those behind REvil and Qbot (also known as Qakbot or Pinkslipbot).

    Continue reading
  • Supreme Court urged to halt 'unconstitutional' Texas content-no-moderation law
    Everyone's entitled to a viewpoint but what's your viewpoint on what exactly is and isn't a viewpoint?

    A coalition of advocacy groups on Tuesday asked the US Supreme Court to block Texas' social media law HB 20 after the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last week lifted a preliminary injunction that had kept it from taking effect.

    The Lone Star State law, which forbids large social media platforms from moderating content that's "lawful-but-awful," as advocacy group the Center for Democracy and Technology puts it, was approved last September by Governor Greg Abbott (R). It was immediately challenged in court and the judge hearing the case imposed a preliminary injunction, preventing the legislation from being enforced, on the basis that the trade groups opposing it – NetChoice and CCIA – were likely to prevail.

    But that injunction was lifted on appeal. That case continues to be litigated, but thanks to the Fifth Circuit, HB 20 can be enforced even as its constitutionality remains in dispute, hence the coalition's application [PDF] this month to the Supreme Court.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022