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Editor's Note: Excuse Me, Mr. McBride...

May 02, 2003, 16:00 (52 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

There is a line from the movie Star Trek V, The Final Frontier that I think is very parallel to the situation between SCO, IBM, and the development of the Linux kernel. In an otherwise medicore movie, there's this one scene where Capt. Kirk cuts to the heart of all of the philosophical debate about this being called God the officers of the Enterprise have just met.

The line, which might be the most insightful line in the entire movie, Kirk asks the being "what does God need with a starship?"

Chaos insues, the heroes save the day, and the franchise continues.

But that line is ringing strongly in my head as I read the latest interviews with Darl McBride as he responds to IBM's legal filings in The SCO Group's lawsuit against IBM.

In the CNET story just posted on Linux Today, McBride indicates that there is indeed source code alledgedly copied from UnixWare into the Linux kernel. This appears to be a major component of their lawsuit against IBM, as they further indicate that IBM was the one who had access to that code and plagarized it into the Linux kernel.

If this accusation is true, and I have no idea of knowing if it is, I would agree that this is a pretty bad thing and that every effort should be made to get that copied code out of the Linux kernel as quickly as possible.

But this attitude does not seem to be shared by the folks at The SCO Group.

According to the CNET article, "McBride refused to detail which specific code had been copied but said there were several instances--'some of them go back several years, and others are recent'--and said the copying was 'not minor.'"

So here are my questions:

Excuse me, but if this code had indeed been in the kernel for several years, why was nothing done about it when it was first discovered?

Anticipating a counter-reply that might say that the copied code was not found until very recently, then I must also beg the question, exactly how major is this copied code?

Here's where my brain is struggling with the logic of McBride's statement. Is it actually possible that in all of the years that SCO and Caldera before it worked with their own Linux distribution, not a single person in their development team noticed old UnixWare code in the kernel and said "hey, how did that get in there?"

And, if that code was found, why didn't that developer or his managers approach the Linux kernel developers or even Linus Torvalds himself and say "we have a little problem here..."?

McBride has argued that there is "a matter of principle at stake," and yet his company seems to have forgotten the very foundation of open source development: if there is a problem found of any nature, you need to either fix it if you can or get some help to fix the problem.

Actually, McBride hasn't forgotten this at all, since he says pretty much the same thing in the article:

"'There is not an intellectual property policeman sitting in at the check-in counter saying this is OK, this is not OK. It is a free-for-all,' McBride said. 'At the end of the day, there's not a basis for making sure code is clean when it goes in there.'"

He's 100% right. You know who's responsible for making sure that code is clean? The people who contribute. That includes Joe Programmer from Estonia, that includes IBM, and that includes Caldera.

Is there UnixWare code in the Linux kernel? As I said, I don't know. As a former book editor, I can tell you that plagarism goes on a lot more than it should, so I would concede it is indeed possible that this code may have found its way into the kernel.

But I, for one, am very frustrated by this notion that SCO has launched this lawsuit in the name of "principle" when it seems they never tried to get this alledged code out of the kernel in the first place.

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