BitKeeper: No holds barred open source infighting

Summary:There's a pitched battle raging between various factions of the open source community over whether proprietary software should be avoided at all costs

Open source enthusiasts are by definition a passionate bunch, with no quarter given or expected in the numerous chat rooms devoted to community-developed software. But even the most furious flaming evoked in the past pales in comparison to the fuss surrounding the latest open source hot potato: BitKeeper.

The fact that this particular scuffle involves two of the community's biggest names, Linux founder Linus Torvalds and Samba co-founder Andrew 'Tridge' Tridgell, goes some way to explaining why chat rooms are blazing at the moment.

At the centre of the row is a proprietary source-control application, BitKeeper, which has been used in kernel development since 2002. Some free software advocates argue that proprietary applications should not be used, on principle, in the development of free and open source software. The more pragmatic elements of the community, Torvalds included, claim that BitKeeper is the best tool available and should be used if it makes kernel development easier.

BitMover, the US-based company behind BitKeeper, agreed to make the tool available free of charge to open source developers, on the condition that developers using BitKeeper would not create a competing product. But now it seems that some open source developers haven't kept up their end of the bargain. Bitmover recently announced that it will be phasing out its free BitKeeper product to allow it to focus on its commercial version.

BitKeeper's main author Larry McVoy claims his company made the move to kill off the free tool as a direct response to Samba developer Tridgell's decision to reverse-engineering Bitkeeper. The resulting clone would violate BitMover's intellectual property — something McVoy wasn't going to sit back and watch happen.

Torvalds has joined McVoy in criticising Tridgell's actions. In a posting on the Real World Technologies Web site he states that Tridgell should have written a control application from scratch rather than attempting to clone Bitkeeper.

"Tridge could have done something constructive: he could have written the best damn SCM [source control management application] on the planet, and believed that open source generates better things, and competed against BitKeeper that way," says Torvalds in the posting.

"But that's not what Tridge did… He didn't create something new and impressive. He just tore down something new (and impressive) because he could, and rather than helping others, he screwed people over. And you expect me to respect that kind of behaviour?" wrote Torvalds

Topics: Developer

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