Torvalds claim to "invent" Linux® probably false, says new study
Washington, DC -- May 14, 2004 -- 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 www.adti.net beginning on May 20.