Linus Torvalds, Linuxs founder and leader, doesnt agree with The SCO Group Inc. CEO Darl McBrides characterization of Torvalds as being unwilling to look at SCOs Unix source code because “he didnt want to be tainted by it.”
McBride made that assertion in an interview with eWEEK.com earlier this week. In his contradiction of McBrides assertion, Torvalds said he told McBride that summer that the issue wasnt with tainted code, but with signing SCOs NDA (nondisclosure agreement) in order to see the Unix code that SCO claims was stolen and placed in Linux by IBM.
This NDA has been widely criticized on several grounds. The criticisms include that SCO gets to determine exactly what code it shows; that disputes over whether information under the NDA was disclosed must be resolved in Utah courts; and that any information revealed under the NDA cannot be discussed, even if it is already public information or the person was aware of it beforehand.
Because of these issues, open-source advocates, lead by Eric Raymond, president of the Open Source Initiative, declared that the NDA was unreasonable. The open-source advocates also said that if SCO would issue a less-restrictive NDA, Linux developers would be happy to look at the code, since, if there were infringing code in the Linux kernel, “our community wants no part of it and will remove it.” At the time, Chris Sontag, senior vice president of SCOs SCOsource division, replied that there were millions of lines of transgressive code and that the issue could not be fixed by removing that code.
This is why, Torvalds said, he didnt want to look at SCOs code, in response to McBrides statement that “I talked to Linus [Torvalds] in an e-mail exchange last summer, and I told him I was willing to show him the code. But he said he didnt want to see it because he didnt want to be tainted by it. So, theres this attitude of [SCO wants] to show it, but [Torvalds doesnt want to] see it.”
“Real life happens to be different,” Torvalds said. “My e-mail to Darl on May 30 of last year states: I would also like to know exactly what it is you allege is problematic in the kernel, but judging by the press reports I dont think youll answer me on that. Maybe you can answer the confusion about me personally, though.”
To which, according to Torvalds, Darl answered: “I understand your unwillingness to go under NDA on the code side of things, so I guess that side will just have to play itself out.”
“In other words,” Torvalds said, “there is no code taint that Id be afraid of, since no such tainted code exists in the kernel. There is only the issue of SCOs NDA. And, at least back then, Darl was aware of the issue, so this is not a question of misunderstanding. Its a question of Darl knowingly misrepresenting the truth.”
Later, Torvalds wrote in a response to McBride, “Anyway, I would personally like to clear up any potential improprieties, and clearly I cannot sign an NDA with you guys. You guys have also done a horribly bad job at clarifying your position in public, with contradictory statements about what it actually is that youre worked up about.”
In another e-mail, Torvalds wrote, “Tell us which lines you think are questionable, and well see whats up. The thing is, its not like the Unix SVR4 code has been developed in a vacuum either—you may have gotten the code from the same sources we got the code from (in fact, not just IBM, but clearly sources like Berkeley and various other institutions have been major contributors to Unix), and they as the original author have full rights to give it away to multiple parties.
“But by not telling, we cant even make a guess about what you are complaining about,” Torvalds continued in the e-mail.
According to Torvalds, McBride went on to reply: “It was good for me to hear your perspective. Maybe it would be productive to try and get together sometime and lay out more fully the vendor-related problems that we have.”
“And that was it,” Torvalds said. “In other words, code taint was never the issue, and Darl knew that very well. And I explicitly asked him to show me the code, and he refused.”
Editors Note: This story was updated to clarify a quote from McBride.
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