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Re: M$ 's strategy against Linux: nightmare scenario

To: SGI/Linux mailing list <linux@cthulhu.engr.sgi.com>
Subject: Re: M$ 's strategy against Linux: nightmare scenario
From: Chad Campbell <campbell@ukans.edu>
Date: Fri, 5 Dec 1997 17:44:58 -0600 (CST)
In-reply-to: <199712051827.KAA54904@oz.engr.sgi.com>
Sender: owner-linux@cthulhu.engr.sgi.com
On Fri, 5 Dec 1997, Ariel Faigon wrote:

This is not a reply to Ariel, but how I would respond to the author of
Ariel's forward.

>   - B.G: "Hey Paul, this guy Linus Torvalds is finishing his studies out
>     there in Finland, the stuff he's making - this Linux OS - looks pretty
>     neat, why don't you make him an offer he can't refuse?"
> 
>   - P.A: "No problem Bill, I'll park him at Transmeta, they're making hot
>     stuff and I'll give him plenty of free time to keep developing this
>     Linux thingy, under our watchful eye."
> 
>   - B.G: "Right. Then if it gets out of control we can buy you out and put
>     our stamp on the stuff. After a couple years we can claim all this was
>     developed on company time. Then we'll just merge it into NT."
> 
>   - P.A: "I'll give you an option to take over at $xxx,xxx,xxx."
Keep in mind that all of Linus' work and the whole kernel is GPL'd.  Also,
M$ would have to prove that Linus was on company time to assert copyright
on any code.  From what I have read, Linus has a contract with TransMeta
which specifically allows him some amount of time to work on Linux, so
they would not only have to prove Linus was on company time, they would
have to prove he was working out of bounds of the time specifically
allowed by his contract.  This would be tough to say the least.  Also,
remember that all kernel code is not by Linus, so even in the worst case
we would just have to remove whatever code was truly TransMeta copyright
and re-implement Linus' contribution some other way.

>   This is a nightmare scenario of course. I have a deep respect for Linus'
>   work and way of managing the kernel development. But isn't he a bit
>   young and inexperienced against the West Coast's big guns? Hasen't he
>   fell into a huge trap?
Maybe, but Linux does not live or die by its creator.  I think that if M$
messes with Linus, every other developer will be so pissed, that the
kernel and maybe every other part of Linux will improve at an even faster
rate..  That would certainly give me motivation to burn the midnight oil,
if only I wasn't burning too much trying to graduate.

>   I hear people yelling "how about the GNU license you dork?". Hmm.. and I
>   answer: has anybody challenged the GPL in the courts? Has the FSF ever
>   had to defend it against a mean, influential and deep-pocketed
>   corporation? Like Stalin asking "The Pope? How many armored divisions?"
>   I ask "GNU? How many lawyers, lobbyists, cash-on-hand at the bank? Up to
>   now nobody cared about GNU software. No software company saw it as a
>   threat. These bearded, suspender-wearing UN*X idealists didn't bother
>   anybody. Today GNU software is becoming essential and a competitive
>   threat. SUN should be even more worried than MS on that count.
I've read the GPL and it seems very secure, if it actually applies to the
code Linus rights.  I don't think M$ would even try to argue against
the GPL, they would simply argue that since Linus was on company time that
he did not have the authority to place his code under the protection of
the GPL.  Also, I don't think GNU would have any difficulty getting
support from the rest of the industry in testifying against M$ and in
support of the GPL were M$ to actually challenge the authority of GPL'd
code.

>   Please somebody tell me this nightmare scenario is just plain stupid,
>   impossible and I'll be happy and go away and sleep better...
No way, it's a very valid point, but I think that Linux is now strong
enough to function without Linus if it has to, so while your nightmare
could be real, you may be overestimating the danger.

One other point.  I don't think M$ could support any claim of being an
innovator of any new methods of OS design.  They simply bark the loudest
when they finally figure out how to implement 20 year old ideas.  So
even if they succeeded in copyrighting Linus' code, we could just
rewrite it in a different way and then they would have to prove either
that the new code was a more or less direct copy of their code or a
result of disassembling Windoze.  Of course no self respecting Linux
developer would even consider copying or disassembling an inferior OS.

All the same, It might not be a bad idea to keep old kernel sources lying
around just in case this nightmare happens.  I would guess that this has
always been the case anyway.

Chad

Chad Campbell
Web Manager, University of Kansas Natural History Museum


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