MS-Funded Alexis de Tocqueville Institution Attacks Linus, Probably Making Itself a Laughingstock

Monday, May 17 2004 @ 02:15 AM EDT

Contributed by: PJ

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water. . . more FUD attacks.

This is so stupid I think we need a parody done by Scott Lazar. But I'll do my best to tell you the news with a straight face. The Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, who as you may recall admitted it gets funding from Microsoft, has put out a press release on a "study" they have done that suggests that Linus isn't the father of Linux after all. Another "independent" study with Microsoft peeking out from behind the curtain.

It's good when you are opposed by Larry and Moe. How dumb do you need to be to attack Linus Torvalds? As I've said before, it's like kicking Dorothy's little dog, Toto. All you get for your trouble is a lot of really offended folks who seriously dislike you and all your supporters.

Their press release provides no proof, no facts, no details, but it claims the author, the head of the Institution, Ken Brown, did extensive interviews with Richard Stallman, Dennis Ritchie, and Andrew Tanenbaum before discovering Linux's "questionable" roots. Linus, unbeknownst to us, is not the man of integrity we know him to have proven himself to be. Instead, I gather they mean to say he is a common thief, or so the Institution hints, who stole from UNIX. Because they provide no explanation, beyond the hints, we are compelled to draw the conclusion that this is what they seem to mean:

"Brown suggests the invention of Unix is an integral part of the Linux story commenting, 'It is clear that people's exceptional interest in the Unix operating system made Unix one of the most licensed, imitated, and stolen products in the history of computer science.'"

I guess Linus'd have to be a liar too, because he has stated publicly that the origins of Linux were not UNIX (Cf. Minix reference in this historic Linus email). The article about their "study" is here. Here is a taste:

"Popular but controversial 'open source' computer software, generally contributed on a volunteer basis, is often taken or adapted from material owned by other companies and individuals, a study by the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution finds. . . .

"Among other points, the study directly challenges Linus Torvalds' claim to be the inventor of Linux."

Maybe Linus would lie and steal other people's code if it's like that movie, "Invasion of the Cabbage People", or whatever that horror movie was called, where people's brains were taken over, and they were then pliable and did things they never would do as their true selves.

UPDATE: Linus has responded, as only Linus can. He reveals to LinuxWorld that he has been found out. The true fathers of Linux are Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Santa is from Finland, after all, so he thought of Linus, who has strong teeth and was thus acceptable to the TF also. He suggests that the Alexis de Tocqueville's web site may have been taken over by some enterprising DNS thief:

"Btw, I do believe that somebody took over

"I don't think the Alexis de Tocqueville institute ever had humor (they certainly used to take themselves very seriously), but their site today is filled with jokes.

"Maybe they forgot to pay their DNS registration fee, and some enterprising person decided to play a joke on them?"

This press release is disgusting, and I hope Linus sues, not that he is the type to sue. He may not be able to, because in true FUD fashion, the headline says "probably", as in "Torvalds claim to 'invent' Linux probably false, says new study." Of course the "study" itself is not available, consisting, I gather, of what is in Mr. Brown's head and notes. You can buy the book, and they probably put out the press release because they want you to, and there will be "excerpts" available on May 20.

If this group is the new SCO, we have lucked out. They incompetently provide a link from their article to what they say will be a UNIX and Linux timeline, but the link takes you instead to a Linux page, which is a bit out-of-date, listing Caldera Linux, which then links to the UNIX page. Except there is no timeline.

Not to worry. We are working on one. The Grokline research project, which will result in an ownership-history-of-UNIX timeline chart to amplify Eric Levenez' chart, will be going online this week. I'll tell you more soon, and I hope you will help us beat off the dark side's UNIX nonsense once and for all by contributing your knowledge and skills to that project, so we can prove where all the code came from and who owned it, making future "studies" like this one impossible. Not to mention future SCO's.

Anyway, when you get to the Linux page, it sings Linux's praises and correctly attributes Linux's authorship to Linus, thus serving as an antidote to their poison. You probably need to go there fast, though. Once they read this, they'll probably change it, once they realize we have probably shown them to probably be incompetent. Here is a highlight:

"Developed by Linus Torvalds and further elaborated by a number of developers throughout the world Linux (lee'nuhks/ or /li'nuks/,_not_/li:'nuhks) is a freely available multitasking and multi-user operating system. From the outset, Linux was placed under General Public License (GPL). The system can be distributed, used and expanded free of charge. In this way, developers have access to all the source codes, thus being able to integrate new functions easily or to find and eliminate programming bugs quickly. Thereby drivers for new adapters (SCSI controller, graphics cards, etc.) can be integrated very rapidly.

"Linux may be obtained in two different ways. All the necessary components can be downloaded free of charge from the Internet. This means that an individual operating system can be assembled for almost nothing. An alternative is to use a so-called Distribution, offered by various companies and including a wide range of applications and installation programs that significantly simplify the installation of Linux. . . .

"Pro: Linux and Linux variants are considerably less expensive to run. Most versions of Linux are free and those that are not are generally very affordable. Especially when looking at the Microsoft Windows NT with multiple licenses. 

"Pro: Issues are generally resolved more quickly then Windows NT with open source code."

I doubt Microsoft pays people to say that or link to it either. The Institution, while acknowledging MS funding, claims they are independent in what they write. I don't know about these "independent" studies. Microsoft, to me, is like a 2-year-old covering his head with a towel and thinking he is thereby invisible.

There is absolutely no point in writing to the Institution, by the way, in my opinion. They long for controversy. Probably. And they may keep lists of everyone they hear from too, for all I know.

They have to know better, having spoken to the individuals they claim to have spoken to. This is why I don't talk to all the reporters who contact me, by the way, any more. Some people use you, if you let them. So I am selective. I expect we may hear a word or two from some of the poor, used interviewees.

The same institution has been on a roll, one press release after another. Here is their prediction that Linux is on a collision course with patents. The article is here. I think Microsoft needs to take a lesson from BayStar and ask for its money back. They might want to note their sage advice to SCO about not attacking Linux and the Linux community, too. Here is a sample of the quality of this article:

"To summarize, the General Public License (GPL), the contract/license for GNU/Linux software and other open source software requires distribution of the source code for the original program. If you receive a copy of GPL’ed software, you can use it without worrying about the original author exercising any limitations, fees, licenses, etc. The GPL enables developers to transfer the rights of their work to anyone they would like, for the privilege of having the reciprocal use of GPL’ed work. This feature makes selling GPL’ed software inane because anyone that agrees to the terms of the GPL can also have a copy of the same software with the code - for free."

These folks are probably toadies, so what can you expect? But I do have a question in my mind. Is Microsoft, with all its money, unable to come up with anything better than this? Isn't it remarkable how little they get for all their silver and gold?

Here is a threat at the very end of another offensive article of theirs. The topic is outsourcing, but they can't help themselves and just must say something hateful and untrue about open source:

"Many U.S. firms are not only devaluing intellectual property via outsourcing, but are also embracing business strategies to devalue (and if necessary, eradicate) their competitor’s intellectual property. Open source software, also described as free software, is the neutron bomb of IP. . . .

"However, the open source strategy is a triple-edge sword. First, most free software such as Linux, (the most popular because of its operating system capability), comes with a license that dictates that any all development of the product (which would have been valuable intellectual property) becomes community property and must subsequently become free as well. . . .

"In conclusion, while it is debatable whether outsourcing can be described as just another business solution or the hemorrhaging of the IT industry, downward pressure on intellectual property is having a serious impact upon the information technology sector and the entire U.S. economy. Instead of asking how much harm is this having on our economy, we should really be asking how much longer can we continually export the U.S. IP economy to every (and any) global competitor at no cost? Unless intellectual property assets are better protected, we will soon see information technology firms resorting to draconian measures even worse than outsourcing."

For those of you who wish to feel as angry as I do, I reproduce their loathsome press release in full.


Torvalds claim to "invent" Linux probably false, says new study

Fri May 14, 5:49 PM ET

Washington, DC (FeatureXpress) May 14, 2004 - Popular but controversial "open source" computer software, often contributed on a volunteer basis, is often taken or adapted without permission from material owned by other companies and individuals, a study by the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution finds. Among other points, the study directly challenges Linus Torvalds (news - web sites)' claim to be the inventor of Linux (news - web sites). In one of the few extensive studies on the source of open source code, Kenneth Brown, president of AdTI, traces the free software movement over three decades -- from its romantic but questionable beginnings, through its evolution to a commercial effort that draws on unpaid contributions from thousands of programmers. Brown's account is based on extensive interviews with more than two dozen leading technologists including Richard Stallman, Dennis Ritchie, and Andrew Tanenbaum.

  "The report," according to Gregory Fossedal, a Tocqueville senior fellow, "raises important questions that all developers and users of open source code must face. While you cannot group all open source programmers and programs together; many are rigorous and respectful of the intellectual property rights, while others speak of intellectual property rights with open contempt."

Brown suggests the invention of Unix is an integral part of the Linux story commenting, "It is clear that people's exceptional interest in the Unix operating system made Unix one of the most licensed, imitated, and stolen products in the history of computer science." Brown writes, "Over the years, many have envied the startling and pervasive success of Unix. For almost thirty years, programmers have tried and failed to successfully build a Unix-like system and couldn't. To this day, we have a serious attribution problem in software development because people have chosen to scrupulously borrow or imitate Unix."

Brown's study is part a book he is writing on open source software and operating systems. Excerpts from the book will be published at on May 20, 2004.