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Creator of Linux Defends Its Originality
December 23, 2003
By STEVE LOHR
Linus 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
"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 1991.
"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
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.
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