With Andrew Tridgell silent, apparently on legal advice, open source community leader Bruce Perens has stepped up to defend the work Tridgell did reverse engineering the protocols used by Bitkeeper. Bitkeeper is the closed source proprietary source code management tool that until last week, Linus Torvalds used to manage Linux kernel source code.
Torvalds has responded to the controversy by blaming Tridgell, and made two extraordinarily intemperate attacks on him online, the second accusing him of willful destruction.
Perens told us that Torvalds needs to "cool it."
"There are times when Linus Torvalds can be a real idiot, and this is one of these times," said Perens.
He pointed out that the closed source tool was foisted on kernel developers despite the consensus that it was inappropriate for a GPL project. Many declined to use it regardless of the gateways McVoy created, says Perens. So the criticism is "very severely unfair" to Tridgell, he says.
As for McVoy, who Perens has known since he was seven (the pair grew up on Long Island), the advice is emphatic.
"Larry could have left gracefully, but I'm afraid that's just not in him... If he has any sense, he'll shut up."
That's the summary. Here's the Q&A.
Larry, Mungo and Tridge
Why, according to Torvalds, is exploring proprietary Microsoft protocols good, while exploring proprietary Bitmover protocols is bad? This does not compute.
"Let's look at what Tridge has done," said Perens.
"Firstly, he's well known because of Samba. He reverse engineered the over-the-wire protocol of Microsoft networking, so he could interoperate with it from a Unix system or Linux or a Macintosh. This is very welcome, and it's in commercial products from HP, IBM, Apple, and many other companies. No one seems to have a problem with this."
"There was never a question of copyright infringement, because he did not look at the software, only how it communicated over the wire."
"So becoming commercially very desirable for this task [Tridgell is on sabbatical from IBM Research as an ODSL Labs contractor, where he was named the second Fellow after Torvalds himself - ed] he again started a hobby project - which is how Samba started - which is a Bitmover compatible product. And he reverse engineered the over the wire protocol."
"He never laid hands on the Bitkeeper software. He did not look inside the software to do this."
"So I think a lot of people are giving him a great deal of trouble for the exact thing he did for Samba. It seems to me hypocritical. I can't tell Linus Torvalds what to say. But it's Andrew Tridgell who is literally not allowed to reply, here, and Linus is being very severely unfair."
"There are times when Linus Torvalds can be a real idiot, and this is one of these times."
What Bitkeeper giveth, Bitkeeper taketh away
What can Larry claim as proprietary? He argues that the metadata is Bitkeeper software. But is this true? And if so, does it apply to all of it - the changesets, diffs, check out times, and comments?
"It's exactly the same argument people make against the GPL. Unfortunately for Larry, the proprietary software vendor can really only claim as his own the software of his program, and not the software that is the result of other people's data - even when that data was processed by his program.
"The processing by a piece of software unless it includes pieces of itself in that output, is not placing any kind of copyright encumberance on items that are processed."
"Kernel developers can't get at this metadata." So he's up a creek without a paddle, then?
"Larry sees conspiracies that don't exist."
"If Larry McVoy has any sense he'll shut up. Or, if he really wants to be a beating blowhard, he'll do something really stupid and sue, and it won't get him anywhere and it will risk his entire business."
In Perens view, the blame should be placed on the decision to adopt a closed source tool for a GPL project in which free software developers are adamant about the right to use free software tools of their choice.
"One of the things that offended a lot of people was that this was an agreement between Linus and Larry, and others weren't being listened to. As a result a lot of people aren't interested whether Larry put up a gateway or not. The kernel is Linus and over a thousand other developers, of which 200 are active every day. Their approval of this entire deal was less than unanimous."
"Linus, to his credit thinks there is too much effort required holding together these people together, who don't want to stay together. He could have realized this at the start."
Finally, we wondered what had happened to Linus gift for diplomacy, which has defused intense rows before, but which now seems to have deserted him?
"Linus Torvalds is not a diplomat. But Linus is even keeled, and he's not even keeled in this, and not taking other people's feelings into consideration."
"He needs to cool it."®