This is the third installment in a ten-year retrospective inspired by LWN's
tenth anniversary; those who have not yet seen them may want to have a look
and Part 2
. At the end of the
second part, LWN had just emerged from the peak of the dotcom bubble having
made a deal with Tucows. For almost two years we operated as a part of
that company; here's some highlights from that time.
- April 13, 2000: Linuxcare
postpones its IPO indefinitely and rearranges its management. Minix
is released as free software.
- April 20, 2000: Linux
Business Expo in Chicago. Microsoft's FrontPage back door is exposed.
Devfs flame wars continue. Red Hat fired by its ad agency. Shares of
Caldera, VA Linux Systems and Andover.Net all fall below their IPO
- April 27, 2000: Oracle
creates Miracle Linux in Japan. Red Hat launches its embedded
- May 4, 2000: Linuxcare
lays off 35% of its staff and officially cancels its IPO.
Needless to say, by this time we were happy to have found a relatively
stable place to be - times were starting to look a little tough. Between
the end of the Linuxcare IPO - once supposed to be the biggest and best of
them all - and the fact that other Linux companies had fallen below their
initial prices, it seemed that the honeymoon was pretty well over. By this
time, LWN's revenue stream from advertising had pretty well dried up too.
Red Hat's embedded business is a classic case of a lost opportunity. The
acquisition of Cygnus should have placed Red Hat in a strong position in
this sector, but, somehow, it all slipped away.
- May 11, 2000: Red Hat
changes direction, dumps its news site, and jumps into the venture
capital business. The first public BitKeeper release happens. The
Free Standards Group is formed.
- May 18, 2000: Rumors of
Wine 1.0. IBM releases the S/390 port. Memory management problems
plague the pre-2.4 development kernels.
One might think it cynical and mean-spirited to point out that we're still
waiting for Wine 1.0. But we'll do it anyway. The memory management
issues with 2.4 were to be with us for some time, as it turned out.
- May 25, 2000: The Linux
Mall and EBIZ merge. Lineo files for an IPO. Eric Raymond decides to
rewrite the kernel configuration system.
- June 8, 2000: A fight over
whether Reiserfs should go into the 2.4 kernel.
- June 22, 2000: British
telecom claims to own a patent on linking and starts suing ISPs for
being part of the world wide web. 2.4.0 test kernels come out in two
flavors with different memory managers. More Reiserfs flames.
Given that the 2.4.0 release was far overdue, one would think that
arguments over whether a completely new filesystem should be added would be
considered out of place. But they did happen, with Hans Reiser showing
a level of
anger and paranoia that put much of the community off of dealing with
him for years. It is rare that kernel developers are accused of putting
corporate interests above those of the kernel as a whole, but that happened
It is actually worth reflecting on this a bit: kernel developers work for
roughly 200 companies, many of which are direct competitors. But that
competition has remained almost entirely absent from the development
process. We are very good at developing common resources in a highly
collaborative way while competing at different levels.
- June 29, 2000: MySQL
switches to the GPL, moves to SourceForge. 2.4.0-test2
is officially blessed with penguin pee.
- July 20, 2000: Miguel de
Icaza proclaims that "Unix sucks" at OLS. Sun releases StarOffice
under the GPL. Rumors circulate that Caldera might acquire SCO; if
only we'd known where that would go.
Larry Wall announces that Perl 6 will be a complete rewrite of
the language. If only we'd known where that would go - or not go. A
set of locking changes goes into the 2.4.0-test kernel - which is
allegedly stabilizing for release.
- August 3, 2000: Copyleft
is sued by the DVDCCA for putting the DeCSS code on T-shirts.
Caldera's acquisition of SCO's Unix business (and name) becomes
- August 17, 2000: The GNOME
Foundation is formed. Debian 2.2 ("potato") is released.
- August 24, 2000 KDE/GNOME
flame wars break out anew. Eric Raymond strongly
criticizes Linus's management practices. VA Linux claims that
SourceForge hosts "over 76%" of the world's free software.
Caldera/SCO announces the "Linux and Unix marriage" - something it
will wish to annul later on.
Something which was widely understood, but little talked about, during this
time was the great amount of effort VA Linux put into recruiting projects
to SourceForge. It was a clear effort to become the home for as much
software as possible. Quite a few prominent projects moved over with great
fanfare, only to drift away more quietly later on. SourceForge still hosts
a great many projects, but it is seen by many now as a home of last resort.
- August 31, 2000: The Open
Source Development Lab announces its existence.
- September 7, 2000:
Trolltech releases Qt under the GPL. The CueCat saga begins. The RSA
patent is released into the public domain - two weeks before it
Lest anybody think that the dotcom silliness was truly over by this point,
the CueCat story should convince them otherwise. Digital Convergence spent
many millions of dollars sending around free barcode scanners on the idea
that people would want to swipe codes from advertisements and be taken to
the associated web site. This company considered using the scanner for any
other purpose to be a violation of the DMCA, and made loud threats at
people distributing drivers which enabled such uses. The company's threats
came to nothing, but they foreshadowed the DMCA follies to come.
- September 14, 2000: Linus
that the kernel is licensed under version 2 (only) of the GPL.
- September 21, 2000: Sun
acquires Cobalt Networks. Caldera dumps $3 million into EBIZ.
Linus proclaims the kernel to be in "final freeze," with only critical
fixes being accepted.
- September 28, 2000: the
Red Hat Network launches. Red Hat 7 is released, featuring
"gcc-2.96," a release which the GCC project never made.
The Red Hat Network was the core of what was to become the subscription
services which support the company so nicely now. Back then, though, that
outcome still was not clear, and Red Hat continued to experiment with a
number of business ideas.
- October 26, 2000: KDE 2.0
is released. LynuxWorks files for an IPO.
- November 2, 2000:
Turbolinux files for an IPO. Linuxcare shuts down its European
operation. Linus describes the 2.4.0-test10 kernel as having "no known
- December 7, 2000: The
2.4.0-test12 prepatches include the new PA-RISC architecture and
rework of the task queue API - both of which, apparently, were fixes
for critical problems. EBIZ tells its shareholders that things will
get better soon, honest.
- December 21, 2000: Corel
sells its Linux business to (what becomes) Xandros.
- January 11, 2001: the
2.4.0 kernel is released at last. Linus warns that it's not yet open
season for new patches. The first SELinux prototype is released.
Many people had begun to worry that 2.4.0 would never come. The story of
the development of this kernel, though, was not done yet.
- January 18, 2001: The
Ramen worm attacks Red Hat Linux systems. Turbolinux and Linuxcare
agree to merge. Lineo withdraws its IPO application. VA Linux warns
that earnings will not be up to expectations. Helix Code gets
$15 million in venture investments. The InterBase backdoor is
discovered. Reiserfs gets merged for the 2.4.1 kernel. The first
- February 8, 2001: SUSE
(still SuSE then) lays off most of its US staff.
- February 22, 2001: VA
Linux lays off 25% of its staff, gets a new CEO. Turbolinux cancels
its IPO. Microsoft's Jim Allchin calls Linux "un-American".
- March 15, 2001: Eazel
releases Nautilus 1.0, lays off half its staff.
- March 22, 2001: The
Stanford Checker surfaces with a long list of potential kernel bugs.
EBIZ announces a plan to acquire Linux NetworX.
By this point, things were looking downright scary. During the bubble
days, almost anybody who wanted to work in free software development could
get a job somewhere. By this point, though, quite a few people were
without jobs and some of them were leaving the community altogether.
The Stanford Checker was a GCC derivative which could do static analysis;
for many, it was the first real demonstration of what that kind of tool
could do. Despite some early reassurances, this code was never released;
instead, it was used to found Coverity. The community has benefited
strongly from Coverity's work, but imagine what we could have done with the
source to the Checker. It is a little sad that we have been unable to
develop similar capabilities in free software.
- April 5, 2001: Wind River
Systems buys BSDi. The first kernel
summit is held. Alan Cox states that the 2.4 kernel is not yet
stable. Larry Wall begins to post the design of Perl 6.
- April 19, 2001: Wind River
Systems lays off the Slackware staff. MandrakeSoft starts asking for
donations from users.
- April 26, 2001: Ed Felten
receives DMCA threats over his breaking of the Secure Digital Music
Initiative watermarking scheme. Eric Raymond proclaims his intent to
hack the kernel's social systems.
The threats against Ed Felten - who had participated on a contest put on by
SDMI proponents - were a strong signal that, in the U.S., the DMCA could
bite developers hard. Worse was to come, though. Meanwhile, Eric
Raymond's attempts to "hack" a rather unimpressed kernel community provided
a steady stream of comic relief.
- May 3, 2001: Turbolinux
and Linuxcare cancel their merger. VA Linux posts horrific quarterly
earnings. Sony releases Linux for the Playstation 2 console.
- May 10, 2001:
EBIZ cancels its acquisition of Linux NetworX. The Bergen Linux Users
Group implements RFC 1149.
- May 17, 2001: Eazel shuts
down. Enhanced Software Technologies - owned by Atipa - shuts down.
- May 24, 2001: MandrakeSoft
lays off 20% of its employees, including its CEO.
Your editor has said previously that Eazel's plan never seemed (to him) to make
sense; the investors finally came to the same conclusion and pulled the plug. Another
plan which did not make sense was what had happened to MandrakeSoft:
outside managers placed in the company by its venture capitalists had
decide that Mandrake should be an e-learning company - not exactly its area
of core expertise. That strategy just about destroyed MandrakeSoft before
the decision to go back to its distributor roots was made. The company
has taken many years to recover from that mistake.
- June 21, 2001:
Red Hat turns a profit. GCC 3.0 is released.
- June 28, 2001: Caldera
announces plans to move its distribution to per-seat licensing. Linus
announces that the 2.5 development series will open "in a week or
two." Meanwhile memory management problems continue to plague the 2.4
kernel (now at 2.4.5). VA Linux leaves the hardware
business. MandrakeSoft announces plans for an IPO. LynuxWorks
withdraws its IPO application.
In these difficult days, the fact that Red Hat could produce a profit -
even a tiny one - offered a ray of hope. The failure of VA Linux to make
it in the hardware business was a sobering counterexample, though, given
that VA was once the most prominent company selling Linux-installed systems.
- July 4, 2001: Version 1.0
of the Linux Standard Base is released.
- July 12, 2001: The Mono
project is launched. Atipa shuts down.
- July 19, 2001: MySQL and
NuSphere end up alleging GPL violations (and more) in court. Dmitry
Sklyarov is arrested on DMCA charges in Las Vegas. EBIZ warns
stockholders that more money must be found or the company will not be
More than anything else, the arrest of Dmitry was a wakeup call for the
community. It seemed that, in the U.S., any developer could be arrested
for interfering with the business plans of large companies. As a result of
this action, some developers still refuse to travel to the U.S.
We still miss Liz - but she remains a good friend.
- August 30, 2001: Dmitry
Sklyarov is charged with conspiracy and faces 25 years in prison. VA
Linux takes the SourceForge software proprietary.
- September 6, 2001: IBM and
others put millions of dollars into SUSE to keep it from bankruptcy.
Sistina takes its Global Filesystem (GFS) proprietary.
- September 13, 2001:
Caldera turns in horrific quarterly earnings; layoffs and a
reverse stock split follow. Lineo lays off a large
portion of its staff. Great Bridge, a company seeking to
commercialize PostgreSQL, shuts down entirely. EBIZ goes into chapter
- September 27, 2001: The
2.4.10 kernel is released.
Few people remember September, 2001, as one of their favorite months.
Beyond the terrible events occurring in the wider world, the problems in
the commercial Linux sector just seemed to get steadily worse.
The 2.4.10 kernel release is an important point as well. Here is where the
longstanding memory-management problems came to a crux; Linus responded
by ripping out the 2.4.9 VM code and replacing it with a completely
different implementation. What followed may be the closest we ever came to
a fork in the Linux development process. Some distributors stayed with
2.4.9 for a long time - RHEL 2 systems (still supported by Red Hat)
are still running a kernel which, at least, claims to be 2.4.9. The worst
passed, however, and this is the point at which 2.4 started toward
something resembling stability.
- October 4, 2001: The World
Wide Web Consortium proposes allowing patented technology with
proprietary licensing into web standards. SUSE brings in another
round of funding and announces the layoff of 120 people.
- October 11, 2001: Michael
Hammel leaves LWN.
Tucows, which had not been helped by having launched a major new offering
on September 11, laid off a number of people, including Michael. His
desktop columns had been a welcome addition to LWN, and his departure was a
- October 18, 2001: Progeny
stops development of its Debian-based distribution.
- October 25, 2001: Lindows
announces its existence.
- November 8, 2001: Linus
announces that 2.5 will start soon. Marcelo Tosatti is named as the
2.4 maintainer. IBM open-sources Eclipse. The European software
patent directive picks up steam.
- November 29, 2001: The 2.5
kernel development series starts - with a filesystem corruption bug.
- December 6, 2001: The
Mandrake Club is launched as a fund-raising initiative.
Initially the Mandrake Club was meant to function as a sort of tip jar. As
financial problems at MandrakeSoft got worse, though, it became the
storefront through which the Mandrake distribution was sold. Not everybody
liked how the Club was run, but it doubtless helped MandrakeSoft to survive
into the present.
- December 20, 2001: Charges
against Dmitry Sklyarov are "deferred" and he returns home to Russia.
- January 17, 2002: DeCSS
creator Jon Johansen is indicted in Norway.
- January 31, 2002: LWN is
unacquired. 2.5 kernel patches get dropped, leading to another "Linus
does not scale" discussion.
The indictment of Mr. Johansen made it clear that DMCA-like problems were
not limited to the USA.
Meanwhile, by this time, Tucows had come to terms with the fact that its
acquisition (and ongoing operation) of LWN was not helping it, given the
directions its business was taking. So, after some discussion, LWN was
unacquired - it was given back to its creators, with Tucows holding on to a
small piece just in case. The parting was on the best of terms; it
revalidated our decision to go with Tucows in the first place. But, after
almost two years, it was time for LWN to venture back out into a scary
world as an independent business.
That was the beginning of a new phase, with its
own ups and downs, which will be discussed in the next installment.
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