Subject: Re: the walls have ears
From: "R. Brock Lynn" <>
Date: Wed, 02 Jun 1999 04:24:08 -0500 wrote:

> I've just taken to calling these "walled" forks, in the sense that code

Sounds ok to me. "walled forks" it is. :)

Forks that used to belong to everyone in the family, but after having been
forced mutated (maybe by getting a little gnarled in the automatic disposal :)
they are then taken away from the rest of the family and sold to poor beggars
who don't know any better by bad ol' meanies! (Couldn't seem to fit "the wall"
in there... oh well... But Pink Floyd did a good job with it already. :)

> cannot freely move between them, or back into the libre source base,

I've heard "libre" used a bit. Is that English? I sounds like it comes from one
of the "romance languages", and must be similar to "liberty" and mean free or

> So, I gather that FreeBSD, OpenBSD, and NetBSD are/were forks in the
> traditional sense, but not "walled" forks, because anyone who wants
> to can copy improvements from one to another (ignoring the usual
> technical issues) without having to rewrite from scratch.

Yes. And I commend the FreeBSD, OpenBSD, and NetBSD guys for keeping the
software "free". It would be very nice and interesting if they were to change
the license to the GPLv2 though! That would be a very powerful, and, at least I
think, very positive message to the whole Free Software community! :) I've heard
that there are at least a few better implementations of things in them than in
the Linux kernel. (for example the virtual console code in FreeBSD has
independent scrollback buffers that I'd like to see as an option when custom
compiling your own Linux kernel.) Perhaps that code can be borrowed,
transmogrified, and then grafted into Linux and the license can be changed to
the GPLv2. Code sharing is important. Instead of having to invent the wheel over
and over, you can concentrate on making more interesting wheels.

> But, SunOS and other derivations of BSD'd code are "walled" forks.
> While it's true that plenty of innovation can be credited to the
> license due to the *aggregate* amount of work going into *all* the
> forks thereof, it's also true that those benefits don't accrue
> to any one person or organization, precisely *because* so many of
> the forks are "walled"

Yes. This upsets me a bit. It's kind of a set back on the whole grander scale of
things. For example, for the longest time the Linux kernel had an NFS kernel
driver and user space daemons that were written to Sun spec. But as it happened,
at least according to rumor, Sun's NFS implementation did not even follow their
own spec. Thus GNU/Linux users suffered, due to the poor implementation, and
non-truth (yes, stuff happens. i'm not completely innocent myself either.) that
sprang from Sun. If Sun had released their NFS implementation under GPLv2 then
perhaps they could have snapped up some support contracts for Linux users, but
instead they lost that opportunity, and caused more harm than good overall. It
has taken a long time now for the Linux kernel camp to reverse engineer the
"true" Sun implementation of NFS so that GNU/Linux users would be able to
reliably allow their machines to talk to Solaris and SunOS machines via NFS. :(

I wonder if Sun will consider releasing Solaris under GPL, (so it's best parts
can have a chance to make it into the Linux kernel and perhaps other Free
Software OS's) and then concentrate more on hardware sales, and service and
support contracts related to both hardware and software only, and perhaps a
little merchandising too. I like the "Java Java Warmer" coffee warmer I won in a
raffle at ALE '98. :)

I also heard rumors at the last Atlanta Linux Showcase from John "maddog" Hall
that Compaq/Digital was considering releasing some parts of Digital UNIX (now
"TRU64 UNIX") (especially the SMP code) for incorporation into the Linux kernel.
But I haven't heard anything since. That would be nice and I think would spur
much higher sales of Alpha boxes to be used for SMP GNU/Linux Clusters using
such clustering software as Beowulf and RTLinux extensions. It only makes good
hardware sales sense. (not to mention better software support contract sales
sense too!)

> (though adding open protocols on top of
> some kinds of features mitigates this somewhat, e.g. the cool new
> filesystem offered by FooOS can perhaps be accessed via NFS from
> the systems running BarOS, though, thanks to them both being walled
> forks from the FreeBletch OS, it can't easily be reimplemented in
> BarOS.  But the users can't just switch to FooOS, since they already
> depend mightily on unique features of *that* system.)

Ick! Gets complex really fast don't it?

"The simplest solution is usually the best solution." Just keep most all of it 
free, and you have simplified things a lot. GPL the beasts, and you have saved
everyone a whole lot of trouble and headaches.

> As I said in private email to Johnathan Shapiro, it appears to me that
> Linux is getting lots of attention these days, not because it's UNIX
> per se (as I have said, the market was *not* demanding UNIX), but
> because:
>   -  Linux being GPL'ed means that it will not suffer "walled" forks.
>      This means people can choose Linux without worrying about
>      choosing the "wrong" Linux in a way they never could (and
>      probably never will) be able to choose UNIX generally.

Indeed. All bets are fairly safe bets with GPL'd code. And with the "Linux
Standard Base" (LSB) An Openly Developed Standard, no matter which distribution
you choose, you can be assured compatibility! All cars have four wheels, an
accelerator, a break, etc., but that does not force them to be all exactly the
same... I dare say not! It just means that your skills in driving them and the
gas that each takes will not vary much at all among the different models.
Freedom of design can co-exist peacefully with consensus of standards for sure.

Anyhow I chose to give GNU/Linux a shot back in 1995 because it was different
and I'd never heard of this interesting thing called UNIX. If it were not for
GNU/Linux, my sole impression of UNIX would be from an ancient version of Ultrix
running on DECStations that crawled at less than 30Mhz, and didn't have color,
nor virtual consoles. I felt a sense of empowerment with GNU/Linux. I could peek
at the source code, and compile my own kernels, I could send emails to the
authors of buggy code and have a fix in less than a day. Marvelous. I ran Linux
mostly after that because of this empowering feeling, and the fact that nothing
was hidden in the source code that might be sinister. It was all "out in the
open". It is a very comforting feeling to know that some deceptive company is
NOT spying on the use of my computer, as has been clearly documented by good ol'

>   -  Linux being GPL'ed means that it *can* "fork", in the sense that, if
>      some entity "takes over" Linux development and goes in the "wrong"
>      direction (even if that entity is Linus himself), whoever considers
>      that direction "wrong", as *everyone* has the freedom to share
>      modifications to it.  (But these will never be "walled" forks when
>      GPL'ed code is involved.)

Yes, even if there is a split, then another "split" can occur to create an
"integrated" version as well!

I guess it's kind of like animals of the same species still being able to share
genetic material among different subspecies, but when a new species is created,
it can no longer share innovative genetic traits from the species from which it

> The former is an advantage Linux shares with Microsoft Windows products
> (putting aside problems like the Linux/libc/glibc/gcc problem of
> backwards compatibility across releases not working, or MS perhaps
> intentionally making some kinds of backwards compatibility stop working).
> The latter is an advantage Linux shares with BSD/X11 *code* and *some*
> products (but not products that are shipped as proprietary, of course;
> those are walled forks).
> I believe it is ultimately the combination of those two advantages that'll
> drive the high-end (informed-user) view that GPL'ed software is always
> a "safe" bet, when choosing a platform.

Yes I agree.

Users will definitely feel safer using GPL'd code once they fully understand
what is at stake.

> When the risks of choosing the
> wrong platform are seen as higher, the GPL will be seen as more safe;
> conversely, as in the case of commodity items implementing only public
> protocols, when choosing the wrong platform means only a temporary
> setback, the GPL isn't likely to be seen as quite so uniquely important.

But (ceteris paribus, or other things being equal) Free Software wins in the
long run due to the higher quality, the freedom, the upfront honesty of the open
source code, the lower possibility of the code base going extinct, etc. etc. As
users start to grasp these things, they will start demanding Free Software. And
smart business men will awaken to the challenge!

So, perhaps the best way to spark the Free Software Business Movement would be
to first create a high demand for it by educating the user public, and then once
they realize what's best for them, they will demand it, and the business
community will have no other alternative but to match supply with demand, and in
the process learn how to make that business model work, perhaps by trial and

> (Of course, creating products that appear, to users, to be commodities,
> but are actually platforms designed to lock them in, is one way to
> do business.  MS uses this tactic often, AFAICT.  In the extreme, an
> example of this is a company that distributes its branded bottled water
> for free, but it contains a virus or other substance that gets the
> recipient "hooked" on *other* products from that vendor...products that
> aren't free.  I'm quite wary of that effect when it comes to hardware
> and software platforms, but, generally, offer me chocolate, and I'll
> eat it without fear.)
>         tq vm, (burley)

> P.S. The importance of branding must not be underestimated, because
> the way most of the public knows that the platform they're using
> isn't a walled fork is by the name, not the software in it (though
> they can, perhaps, be educated to look for a GPL `COPYING' file
> that applies to the whole product).
> Linux has a bit of branding protection, in that a (perhaps
> unenforceable?) trademark for the term is now assigned to Linus
> Torvalds (or someone like that).

Yes, Linus owns the trademark himself. And it is enforceable, as there was a
court case or some kind of settlement back a few years ago when some other guy
was claiming rights to the trademark. Linus ultimately won.

> But only "collective outrage of the netizens" prevents Microsoft
> from producing a proprietary product called "GNU" something.
> (I find abuse of the ".org" domain to range from the merely annoying,
> as in the case of `', to the outright unethical, as
> in the case of `', for the rights to which I *asked* the
> business that owned it, only to be told something along the lines
> of AlGoreJr's "there's no controlling legal authority".  I don't
> think enough net.outrage can be created to retrieve `'
> for non-profits, and I don't intend to try to do it myself, but,
> surely, if MS acquired `' and used it to sell a "GNU Emacs",
> or something similarly unethical, they'd take a substantial hit to
> their already tarnished image.)

Well, that's all Network Solution's fault, the processing bulk was getting so
high, they just couldn't keep up with the "background" checks and left it up the
applicants to decide if the domain was relevant to their "status" or not.

But most certainly a software license, regardless whether it's proprietary or
Free would be equally enforceable in a court of law. In fact I'd like to see
someone try to steal some GPL'd code and get caught, and then a BIG precedent
get set, and a settlement for damages made... as a warning. :)


---------------------  PGP key ID: FED76A3D <> 4 / 5 / 1999

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