[This article was contributed by Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier]
After the much-publicized controversy earlier this year
about the XFree86 Project's development process, it seemed inevitable
that there would eventually be a fork of the project. Though it's not
exactly a fork, an experimental branch of XFree86 is now in the works.
Called "Xouvert," the project wasn't officially announced so much as outed on Slashdot.
The Xouvert project (pronounced "Zoo-vaire") is looking to allow
developers to add driver support and new features to XFree86 in a
modular fashion that should be easy to track and re-apply to the
official XFree86 tree. One complaint raised by Keith Packard, and
others, is that it has been difficult for developers outside the core
team to contribute to XFree86. Xouvert project coordinator Jonathan
Walther says that a main goal of the Xouvert project is to make it
We want to lower the barrier to entry to contribute to X. That means not
only being completely open in our source, but also doing other things.
For instance, we use the arch revision control system instead of CVS,
because this significantly lowers the barrier to participating. Anyone
can come along, download our sources, then start committing their
changes locally, keeping the sources under revision control, then at
some later point knock on our door and say "hey, I've got this great new
feature, please merge it back upstream" and it will be a snap, no
history will get lost.
Xouvert is being hosted on Savannah, though it's not an
official GNU project. The project is not officially connected to
XFree86 either. Walther says that the only communication between the XFree86
team and the Xouvert team, thus far, was when David Dawes "asked us to
capitalize XFree86 correctly" and indicate that XFree86 is a trademark.
Walther says he'd like to work with the XFree86 team in the long run,
Over time as we prove ourselves, we hope to have more communication with
the XFree86 team, and hope to be able to work closely with
them...Xouvert is interested in accepting code from any of the XFree86
developers, whether current or former.
The project is designed so that it is both easier to contribute to, and
easier to download and install. Walther mentioned that compiling XFree86
has "often been a source of frustration," so Xouvert's Cameron Berkenpas
is working on a HOWTO to
make it easier on users looking to compile their X server from source.
Walther also says that the Xouvert lead developer, William Lahti, is
working on a developer's handbook that will cover Xouvert's overall
architecture and API's, though it may not be ready until the second
Right now, there's no real difference between the XFree86 codebase and
Xouvert's. Users eager to see the first release of Xouvert don't have
too long to wait -- the first release is slated for October 1, and
stable releases are expected every six months after that. According to
Walther, the first release will only contain "small additions and
changes" but the second release next April should contain more
comprehensive changes like the DRI/DRM and Utah-glx projects.
New projects often fizzle before they reach maturity, so it's too soon
to say whether the Xouvert project will become a mainstay of the Linux
and open source community. However, given the importance of a free X
Server to the long-term (and short-term, for that matter) health and
success of Linux, one hopes that the project will be successful.
Comments (10 posted)
Here at LWN, we start each week in the hope that we'll be able to keep SCO
off the front page. Each week, the company finds some way to make that
impossible. This time around, there are two separate episodes which
require attention, and thus two articles to look at them.
First, we look at the interesting claim from SCO's lawyers that the GPL is
not enforceable, since it is preempted by federal copyright law. This
would appear to be a very difficult argument to back up, as has been
established by a number of people. But a sinister agenda may yet lurk
behind this goofy attack on the GPL; it bears watching.
Then, of course, there is our article on SCO's disastrous (for them)
demonstration of "stolen" code. This article is responsible for the
busiest day LWN's server has ever experienced. As this Weekly Edition goes
to "press," this situation is still developing. SCO has not, yet, managed
a response beyond the one they sent to us:
Attendees at SCO's annual conference, SCOForum, were shown samples
of Linux code that were illegally copied from SCO intellectual
property. Some Linux proponents are suggesting that SCO has no
claim to this code.
Chris Sontag, GM and SVP of SCOsource, said that not only are their
assertions incorrect, but the code is absolutely owned by SCO. In
fact SCO knows exactly which version of UNIX System V the code came
from and which licensee was responsible for illegally contributing
it to Linux.
Look for the inevitable "Chris and Darl" teleconference in the near future.
It is worth noting that the inclusion of BSD-licensed code into the Linux
kernel without the accompanying copyright notice is, indeed, a copyright
violation. It is something that absolutely should not be done; in cases
where it has happened, it needs to be fixed. We need to take greater care
with the licensing of code that we use.
But this has never been SCO's point. You don't hire brand-name lawyers
over a missing attribution; a simple "please restore my copyright" email
will do. A missing attribution does not justify billions of dollars in
damages, or even a $699 license fee. There may well have been a copyright
violation when BSD-licensed code was used without attribution. But SCO has
managed to undermine its own case anyway.
(For more information on SCO's Las Vegas slide show, see this article by Bruce
Perens, who gained access to the full set of slides presented there).
Comments (2 posted)
It is time to have a look at some statements
by Mark Heise of Boies, Schiller, & Flexner - SCO's outside law firm -
which were initially reported in the Wall Street Journal and extensively
repeated thereafter. According to Mr. Heise, the General Public License
(GPL), under which the Linux kernel (and much other code) is licensed, is
invalid because it is preempted by federal copyright law. The problem, it
is said, is that the GPL allows unlimited copying of the software it covers
(as long as its other terms are met) while federal law only allows the
creation of a single copy for backup purposes.
This is a breathtaking bit of legal reasoning. In one quick blow,
Mr. Heise has blown away every free software license, every proprietary
site license, and many other end user agreements that have been made over
the years. We tried to discuss Mr. Heise's pathbreaking legal work with
him, but he didn't feel the need to return our phone calls. So let's just
have a quick look at the law he is talking about.
The relevant bit of law is section 117 of
the U.S. copyright law. It reads (in part):
§ 117. Limitations on exclusive rights: Computer Programs
(a) Making of Additional Copy or Adaptation by Owner of
Copy. -- Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, it is
not an infringement for the owner of a copy of a computer program
to make or authorize the making of another copy or adaptation of
that computer program provided:
- that such a new copy or adaptation is created as an essential
step in the utilization of the computer program in conjunction with
a machine and that it is used in no other manner, or
- that such new copy or adaptation is for archival purposes only
and that all archival copies are destroyed in the event that
continued possession of the computer program should cease to be
In other words, the "backup copy" language is an additional right granted
to users of copyrighted material. Nothing in the GPL attempts to restrict
this right. The biggest danger posed by Mr. Heise's argument would seem to
be the potential for contempt of court findings against those who are
unable to control their laughter. (See this article
by Eben Moglen for a more complete demolition of the preemption
Bizarre statements out of the SCO camp are nothing new. But we should not
let the clownish aspect of the SCO Group take attention away from what,
increasingly, appears to be part of their real agenda: an attack on the
GPL. Consider the latest from CEO Darl McBride, as reported in
"In a nutshell, this litigation is essentially about the GNU
General Public License and all it stands for. That license has not
yet been challenged or tested in court, but it is now going to
be. We are also firmly and aggressively challenging the notion that
Linux is a free operating system," McBride said.
The "GPL and all it stands for" has made life difficult for SCO, and they
want to take it out. The GPL stands for software which is free, software
which is under the control of no company - not even SCO. It stands for a
world where nobody can collect large taxes for the concept of "Unix-like
systems on commodity hardware." The SCO Group evidently sees such taxes as
its birthright. No wonder it wants to destroy "the GPL and all it stands
This campaign is off to an amateurish start, but it may not stay that way.
It bears watching. The GPL is strong, and so are its defenders; it is
telling that, over the better part of twenty years, nobody has thought it
worthwhile to challenge the GPL in court. The GPL will almost certainly
prove far stronger than SCO. But every trip to court has its dangers, and
the community cannot affort to be complacent with this one. If SCO follows
through on its rhetoric, we have a big and important fight ahead of us.
Comments (21 posted)
At SCO's annual reseller show, the company's executives put up a couple of
slides as a way of demonstrating how Unix code had been "stolen" and put
into Linux. The two slides were photographed and have since appeared on
Heise Online; see them here
The escape of these slides has allowed the Linux community to do something
it has been craving since the beginning of the SCO case: track down the
real origins of the code that SCO claims as its own. The results, in this
case, came quick and clear. They do not bode well for SCO.
The code in question is found in arch/ia64/sn/io/ate_utils.c in the 2.4 tree.
It carries an SGI copyright. It seems that SGI was not entirely
forthcoming in documenting the source of its source; some of the code in
question was, indisputably, not written at SGI. So where does it really
This code is from sys/sys/malloc.c
in V7 Unix. It has been widely published; among other things, it can be
found in Lion's Commentary on Unix (if you can get a copy). It was
featured in this
1984 Usenet posting. And, crucially, it has been circulated with the
V7 Unix source, which was released by Caldera (now
the SCO Group) under the BSD license. SCO would like the world to forget
about that release now, but the
Wayback Machine remembers.
So...SCO's code demonstration, the one that it put up to convince its
resellers of its case, comes from a version of Unix which first came out in
1979. The code was publicly circulated in the 1980's, and explicitly
released under the BSD license by [the company now known as] SCO at the
beginning of 2002. SCO might well have a complaint that SGI did not
properly give credit for the code it used. But there is no possible way
the company can argue that this code's presence in Linux is an infringement
of its copyrights.
And this, of course, is why SCO refuses to show the code that, it claims,
is copied. These claims do not stand up to even a few hours' scrutiny on
the net. SCO may yet have an interesting contract dispute with IBM, but,
from what we have seen so far, its claims of direct copying of code are
(Many thanks to those who commented on an
earlier LWN posting on this subject - those comments are the source for
just about everything that appears in this article. Many thanks are due to
LWN's readers; you have shown the best of what the community can do.
Update: see also: this analysis of SCO's
code by Bruce Perens.)
Comments (71 posted)
Page editor: Jonathan Corbet
Inside this week's LWN.net Weekly Edition
- Security: Virus notifications; new vulnerabilities in autorespond, eroaster, netris, and openslp
- Kernel: Alan Cox takes a break; <tt>/proc/kcore</tt>; user data replication for NUMA; ARP.
- Distributions: BRLSPEAK and Oralux - Distributions for Visually Impaired; new - Mepis Linux
- Development: The Enterprise Volume Management System,
new versions of PCB, OSCAR, Alambic, Bricolage, Ardour, GNOME Desktop,
GnuCash, gphoto, Gaim, Samba, KOffice, OpenOffice.org,
Mono, PHP, Squeak, SCons.
- Press: Linux gains on the desktop, China uses KDE, Guido interview, RMS on SCO,
spam filter comparison.
- Announcements: Linux service vendor survey, SCO Earnings, PyCon 2004 CFP, FootNotes in German.
- Letters: Trying to buy a license from SCO