Subject: Re: ok, FSBs created schwag; now bet the farm on something better
From: Peter Wayner <>
Date: Fri, 21 Sep 2001 13:37:11 -0400

>I suppose it depends on what space you look at; my primary exposure is
>to infrastructure tools, so I see Athena (incl. kerberos) at MIT,
>OpenAFS at CMU, Heimdall/Arla at KTH, Cyrus (CMU again), etc.
>Perhaps that's because they're more focussed on solving technical
>problems [which they have because they're large universities] than
>movements :-)
>And I can't forget Prof. Felton at Princeton (deCSS) or Dr. Touretsky
>at CMU; that entire issue is very much tied to academic Free software...


First, your examples about infrastructure tools are good ones. I've 
always felt that I wasn't making a solid argument because there are 
hundreds of counter examples. I've always conceded that I was waving 
my hands and talking about attitude and style. Or maybe volume.

Second,  it's your turn to look for better examples. :-) DeCSS was 
written by some anonymous Euros, perhaps while slacking their way 
through universities. Maybe while working for MS. One brave guy stuck 
his head out and was "detained" by the police. He was not a 
professor. 2600 magazine in the US was sued for  passing along the 
code and providing a reference on where to find it. The EFF was there 
fighting and defending 2600.

Touretsky's leadership is spirited, witty, and wise, but he's not 
facing the real brunt of the matter. Again, 2600 magazine was the one 
being sued.  I don't remember CMU leading anyone over the barricades.

Felten et al just  wanted to publish a text describing how to crack 
SDMI's public challenge. I think Princeton could have defended him 
with much more vigor. It's kind of sad that the EFF, not the $6 
billion+ PU endowment, had to mount the defense.

The courts seem to believe that crypto research is only exempt from 
the DMCA if it's done by a professor. Anyone else is a hacker, a 
pirate, or a terrorist. It would be nice if the universities would 
try to open up the umbrella more to embrace the non-tenured people in 
pursuit of education and enlightenment.

I guess I mean to damn the universities with faint praise. Some 
professors are doing cool things. Some are even leading the fight. 
But given the resources, the connections, and the gobs of money 
squirreled away in their tax-free accounts, the so-called beacons of 
openness and enlightenment are really sitting on the sidelines.


Having said that, let me take your side for a moment to help along 
the discussion. In almost all areas, computer science departments 
have not been able to keep up with industry and the larger cultural 
movement of the Internet. Universities are well-funded, but Sun, 
Microsoft, Intel, IBM, HP, and others have serious amounts of money. 
For a time, Red Hat and VA Linux had tons too. Shoot, even IBM and 
Microsoft have some of the best theorists.

Universities are also loose-knit collections of sole proprietors. 
Every professor tends to run a single person business and one person 
can only offer so much leadership. This extreme balkanization 
prevents the university from ever creating the infrastructure of a 
company like Red Hat. It just won't happen. That's not the business 
that they're in. They'll be there with the small, innovative 
projects. You'll see them doing the weird stuff. But, the university 
is not the place for big movements. For better or for worse, Linux, 
FreeBSD and the others are now big stuff.