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The Linus that Stole Linux

May 23, 2004

I thought some people here might be interested in one of the latest absurd claims floating around. The Alexis de Tocqueville Institute's President, Ken Brown, has declared that Linus wasn't really the creator of Linux, but stole it.

To try to back up his absurd claim, Brown tried to go to interview Andy Tanenbaum, the creator of MINIX. Brown did not bother to interview Linus Torvalds, the person he's accusing of intellectual thievery, before launching his criticisms.

For a brief bit of history, Linus learned from MINIX, and wrote Linux on the MINIX OS, but the code was completely Linus'. Ken Brown, however, couldn't believe that one person could possibly write an OS. However, Tanenbaum informed Brown that he had concluded in his college days that "you'd have to be real dumb not to be able to write an operating system in a month."

To try to give Brown some perspective, Tanenbaum discussed five cases where individuals had essentially created an operating system. Tanenbaum states clearly that "the code was his [Linus Torvald's]. The proof of this is that he messed the design up," and then says: "producing a system that was fundamentally different from the base he started with seems pretty good proof that it was a redesign."

Linux (the kernel) and MINIX are fundamentally different. Linux is a monolithic kernel, MINIX a microkernel. Other examples of microkernels include Mach an the QNX kernel. Another example of a monolithic kernel would include the kernels for MS Windows OS', which should perhaps be called macro-kernels. A micro-kernel does not include the file-system, a monolithic kernel does.

Linus and Tanenbaum had and have a real disagreement over which design is better for a kernel. This disagreement was aired out in a well-publicized debate between the two. And, hence, we get to the reason why Brown thought he could obtain some ammunition from Tanenbaum: He thought that Tanenbaum was bitter that Linux has become so successful. However, as it turns out, Brown was wrong. Tanenbaum remarked on Brown's motivation for interviewing him.

Tanenbaum's defense of Linus Torvalds stands as an example of ethics, honesty, and integrity. As Rothbard and Mises disagreed over whether there should be no State or a minarchist State, Tanenbaum and Torvalds disagreed over whether kernels should be micro-kernels of monolithic kernels. There was no personal animosity. The disheartening thing is that many people think of the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute as a supporter of liberty and freedom. Their mission statement claims that they represent the liberal ideas of Alexis de Tocqueville, including civil liberty, political equality, and economic freedom and opportunity.

From where I'm standing, and judging from the articles on their home-page, it seems like most of what they do is support Statism and government grants of monopoly priviledge, such as patents and copyrights.

PS: Linus Torvalds has confessed: he stole Linux! Linux was really created by Santa Claus and the Tooth-Fairy

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