BitMover has undoubtedly benefited from its work with Linux kernel developers. The company's front page includes a prominent quote from Torvalds praising the application.
"BitKeeper has made me more than twice as productive, and its fundamentally distributed nature allows me to work the way I prefer to work — with many different groups working independently, yet allowing for easy merging between them," Torvalds states.
Mozilla contributor David McGuinness says that BitMover's recent decision to change its licence shows the risks of relying on proprietary software for open source development. "The problems with BitKeeper show the disadvantages of relying on proprietary software as you're stuck with the whims of the company that owns that particular code," says McGuinness. "If they want to revoke your licence or stop releasing updates then you can end up in trouble."
Some Linux kernel developers have disagreed with Torvald's decision to use Bitkeeper from the beginning. Harald Welte, who maintains the packet filter subsystem in the Linux kernel and runs gpl-violations.org, says he has always refused to use Bitkeeper to develop free software, but concedes that he is "somewhat more religious" than Linus, who is "very pragmatic".
Ovum's Barnett believes that Torvalds was right to use BitKeeper if it was the best software available for the job. Open source developers should stop being "childish" and accept that there is nothing wrong with using proprietary and open source software together, says Barnett.
"I think it’s a responsibility of any good software engineer to use the most appropriate tool or technology to achieve the outcome they're looking for," says Barnett. "It's simply not a flyer for the open source community to be overly precious over the use of proprietary software with open source software, because on this planet these things will have to coexist for a long time."
The debate — over whether Torvalds was right to use Bitkeeper in the first place, and whether he was right to criticise Tridgell for reverse-engineering the application — is likely to continue for some time. Free software purists and open source pragmatists are unlikely to find any common ground on this issue, and as it drags on, some are concerned that it may damage Torvalds' reputation.
Although Torvalds is revered by many within the open source community as the founder of Linux, he also has detractors among the free software movement. There is even a conspiracy theory on news site Slashdot that the anti-Torvalds rhetoric may have the underlying aim of persuading the open source community to switch to Hurd — an alternative to the Linux kernel that is being developed by the Free Software Foundation.
But, Torvalds doesn't appear too worried. In a posting to the Linux kernel mailing list last week he appears unconcerned about recent articles criticising him. "Thick skin is the name of the game. I'd not get any work done otherwise," he says.