of this increasingly
long series stopped in March, 2004, when BitMover loudly proclaimed that
the use of BitKeeper had doubled the pace of kernel development. This
installment picks up from there, looking at a year when BitKeeper remained
in the news, the SCO case was in progress, software patents became more
threatening, and more.
- April 8, 2004: The first
X.org release. SELinux shows up in a Fedora Core 2 test
release. Red Hat v. SCO is put on indefinite hold (where it remains
to this day). Anti-software-patent demonstrations are held in
This week featured some important news. The launch of X.org signaled the
resurrection of Linux desktop work and the beginning of a much more
interesting and promising era. Meanwhile, Fedora took the lead in pushing
SELinux-based mandatory access control technology into a general-purpose
system. That work is still very much in progress nearly four years later,
but, like it or not, SELinux has become an important part of our defensive
- April 15, 2004: The 2.6.6
kernel gains POSIX message queues, filesystem speedups, internal API
changes, laptop mode, 4K stacks, auditing, the CFQ I/O scheduler,
and more. Sun and Microsoft
make a $2 billion deal. Lindows becomes Linspire.
- April 22, 2004: Linspire
files to go public. BayStar tells SCO it wants its money back.
- April 29, 2004: Gentoo
founder Daniel Robbins leaves the project.
Something else which was going on during this time was a rising level of
discontent over the management of the Fedora project, which was not turning
out to be the open community that many had hoped for. Pause for a moment
and revisit this classic
dialog posted by Konstantin Ryabitsev, which so clearly documented how
the situation was seen by the community at that time. Fedora has come a
long way since then.
- May 20, 2004: The
European Council approves the software patent directive, sending it
back to the Parliament for final passage.
Remember: the directive approved by the Council was the original
version which legitimized software patents, not the version amended by the
Parliament which did not. Thus started the final (so far) round in the
fight against European software patents - a round which we eventually won.
- May 27, 2004: The kernel
adopts the Signed-off-by: convention. The 2.6.7 kernel gains
scheduling domains, the object-based reverse mapping VM, filtered
wakeups, and more.
The thing to remember here is that 2.6 was alleged to be a stable kernel
series, and everybody was still waiting for 2.7 to start. Linus defended
the massive VM changes with the claim that they were, in fact, an
"implementation detail." The realization that the kernel development
process had, in fact, already changed did not come through until...
This kernel summit decision - which, among other things, said that there
would be no 2.7 kernel - surprised almost everybody. Certainly there have
been some issues since then, but nobody really wants to go back to the old,
- August 5, 2004: Open
Source Risk Management funds a study showing that the kernel infringes
on 283 patents, offers patent suit insurance. SCO Forum is held,
featuring a keynote by Rob Enderle; the rest of the world looks on
incredulously. The Munich Linux deployment is put on hold as a result
of software patent fears.
- August 19, 2004: Lindows
gives up on its IPO. The 22.214.171.124 kernel is released.
There were interesting cross-currents happening at this time. On the one
hand, companies like Open Source Risk Management were trying to use SCO as
a way to scare companies (and individual developers) into buying its
insurance offerings. On the other, there was a hallucinogenic aspect to
the SCO Forum discussions that escaped nobody; SCO's time of being taken
seriously by the wider world was already done.
It's worth noting that OSRM still exists, but its insurance offering now
is for companies worried about GPL-infringement suits.
Meanwhile, 126.96.36.199 was the first three-dot kernel release ever; it was
rushed out in response to an unpleasant, last-minute bug in 2.6.8.
- August 26, 2004: IBM
brings GPL-infringement charges against SCO. LWN fails to reproduce
the posted reiser4 filesystem benchmarks, gets in trouble with
- September 16, 2004: Sun
announces plans to open-source Solaris. OSDL and the Free Standards
Group announce a plan for cooperation on the Linux Standard Base.
OSDL and the FSG were, at this point, separate groups which, at times,
almost seemed to be in competition with each other. Those days, of course,
are no more: the two have since merged and become the Linux Foundation.
Who would have thought that one could create a major new distribution in
2004? One might well wonder whether the situation is any less open now.
- October 7, 2004: the
bnetd developers lose their DMCA case. Concerns about kernel quality
are expressed. Microsoft's FAT patent is overturned.
- October 14, 2004: Novell
says it will use its patents "as appropriate" to defend free software
projects against patent attacks. Jeff Merkey offers $50,000 for the
right to take the kernel proprietary. The realtime preemption patch
set gets started.
- October 21, 2004: the
first Ubuntu release (4.10) comes out. Busybox 1.0 is released at
last. Mozilla begins fund raising to advertise Firefox in the New
- November 11, 2004:
Firefox 1.0 is released. Novell gets $500 million in anti-trust cash
The Firefox 1.0 release was, in a very real sense, the much-delayed
culmination of the process which began back in 1998, when Netscape
announced that it would be releasing its code. Firefox was almost seven
years in the making, but, sometimes, late really is better than never.
Even those of us who use a different browser should be thankful for the
effect Firefox has had toward the creation of a standard-compliant web and
a competitive environment for web browsers.
Whether it's called United Linux, the Linux Core Consortium, or Manbo-Labs,
this is an idea which returns on occasion: pool effort on the creation of a
base distribution so that each player can concentrate their differentiation
efforts on the higher levels. It often seems not to work, though. It is
hard to compete with more community-based distributions through the
establishment of a base platform by corporate fiat. It seems that the true
"base" distributions have names like Debian or Fedora.
- January 13, 2005: Debian
runs afoul of the Mozilla trademark policy. The European Parliament
attempts to restart the software patent discussion from the
- January 27, 2005: Sun
starts releasing Solaris code under the CDDL.
- February 3, 2005: The
Software Freedom Law Center is founded. Eben Moglen starts talking
about GPLv3. Russ Nelson becomes the president of the Open Source
Initiative - briefly.
- February 10, 2005: IBM's
requests for summary judgment in the SCO case are dismissed -
temporarily - by Judge Kimball. BitKeeper flame wars return, this
time about the locking-up of history metadata and license-based
prohibitions on its extraction.
The locking-up of metadata within BitKeeper was a sore point even for
developers who had accepted BitKeeper in general. Larry McVoy was unsympathetic, though, stating
that he was operating within his rights. This episode was the beginning of
the end for BitKeeper and the kernel.
- March 3, 2005:
MandrakeSoft acquires Conectiva. The European Commission ignores the
European Parliament's request to restart the software patent directive
- March 10, 2005: Kernel
quality concerns lead to the creation of the -stable tree.
Those quality concerns are not gone now, though they have diminished
somewhat. The -stable tree seemed like an experiment at the time, but it
has proved successful and is still being produced almost three years
- April 7, 2005: The
BitKeeper era comes to an abrupt end when the free-beer license for
the software is terminated by BitMover. (Unfounded) rumors about a
merger between UserLinux and Ubuntu circulate.
- April 14, 2005: Linus
posts the first version of git. MandrakeSoft becomes Mandriva.
The termination of free-beer BitKeeper was probably inevitable from the
very beginning of its existence; trying to maintain a closed system with
proprietary data formats in the middle of a highly open process was always
a losing proposition. For some time, many of us had feared that it could
end in a much uglier way than it actually played out. We, the community,
had danced on some thin ice for a while, but, when it broke, the water was
only ankle-deep. We got lucky.
As your editor has said before, BitKeeper did us a lot of good by bringing
order to the kernel development process when things had been working very
poorly, and by showing the world what distributed revision control could
do. It set the stage for what came after. Git was not the first free
distributed revision control system, but it was the first to be employed on
such a massive scale. In a real sense, git launched a new era of free
On that note, this article will end - and, probably, the retrospective
series ends as well. As events become more recent, the difficulty of putting
them into historical perspective gets greater. A retrospective covering
the remaining 2+ years risks becoming a repeat of the annual timelines and
adding little of value. That period is best left for the 20-year
So, the entire LWN staff would like to say
"thanks!" one last time to our readers, who have treated us so well for the
last ten years. It has been an incredible ride.
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