December 23, 2003
Creator of Linux Defends Its Originality
By STEVE LOHR
inus Torvalds, creator of the popular Linux computer operating system,
defended his work yesterday as not always lovely but original - and
certainly not copied, as a Utah company has contended.
The Utah company, the SCO Group, has begun sending out a round of
warning letters to large corporate users of Linux, which is distributed
free. The letters, dated Friday, assert that Linux, a variant of the
Unix operating system, violates an SCO license and copyright. SCO, based
in Lindon, Utah, owns the rights to the Unix operating system.
SCO has for months made the broad claim that Linux included large chunks
of copied Unix code. But the letters being sent out - urging companies
to stop using Linux or to pay SCO license fees - listed for the first
time more than 65 software files that "have been copied verbatim from
our copyrighted Unix code and contributed to Linux."
Mr. Torvalds began looking at these files, and their history, yesterday.
As a student in Finland, he wrote the original kernel of the Linux
operating system in 1991. Mr. Torvalds, who now lives in Silicon Valley,
has since continued to oversee the growth of the Linux project, which
relies on contributions from a worldwide network of programmers.
"Some of these files were written by me directly," Mr. Torvalds said in
an e-mail exchange, and so were not contributed to the Linux project by
third parties, including I.B.M.
which is being sued by SCO.
The files listed in SCO's letter are written in the C programming
language. Citing two files, "include/linux/ctype.h" and "lib/ctype.h,"
Mr. Torvalds said "some trivial digging shows that those files are
actually there in the original 0.01 distribution of Linux" in September
"I wrote them," Mr. Torvalds noted, "and looking at the original ones
I'm a bit ashamed."
He observed that some of the macros, or programming shortcuts, are "so
horribly ugly that I wouldn't admit to writing them if it wasn't because
somebody else claimed to have done so ;)" - ending his comment with the
e-mail symbol for winking and smiling.
Mr. Torvalds's talent as a communicator, including his self-deprecating
humor, is one reason for the remarkable progress of the Linux project.
But Mr. Torvalds is also clearly angered by SCO's accusation that much
of Linux was merely copied. "In short," Mr. Torvalds said, "for the
files where I personally checked the history, I can definitely say that
those files were trivially written by me personally, with no copying
from any Unix code, ever.
"I can show, and SCO should have been able to see, that the list they
show clearly shows original work, not copied."
Darl C. McBride, the chief executive of SCO, said he stood by the
company's assertions. He said that a Linux expert who will testify in
the SCO suit against I.B.M., which was filed last March, went over the
code closely. "As a social revolutionary, Linus Torvalds is a genius,"
Mr. McBride said. "But at the speed the Linux project has gone forward
something gets lost along the way in terms of care with intellectual
The dispute over the Unix and Linux heritage became even more tangled
yesterday when Novell, a software company, announced it had filed with
the United States Patent and Trademark Office for copyright on some of
the same Unix code for which SCO claims the rights.