Not remove the license or copyright.
After that, everything is fair game. There is no GPL-type requirement
that any changes you make to BSD-covered code be made publicly available in
source form. You're free to do whatever you want with BSD-licensed
code, including making proprietary changes. BSD fans accurately point out
that, in this sense, BSD code is freer because it comes with fewer
restrictions than the GPL.
Fears of exploitation
This kind of thing, of course, is the stuff that holy wars are made of --
and there are certainly sparks of ill will in some parts of the
Linux and BSD worlds. Many BSD folk have an allergic reaction to the
impositions of the GPL, while GNU supporters believe that BSD's scheme
offers an invitation to proprietary exploitation that ultimately inhibits
the growth and popularity of free software.
It's an unwinnable debate, and both sides have valid points.
Unfortunately, the debate is often fueled by an underlying resentment of
some BSD circles that contains more than a hint of jealousy at times.
Fragments of the debate-turned-argument surface in the strangest places,
most recently within a
Slashdot discussion of the new Slackware release.
I have myself heard from BSD people who still think of Linux as a toy, and
of its developers as amateurish hackers (in contrast to BSD's serious
Unix-bred developers, they seem to suggest).
Even moderates such as Hubbard believe that Linux is merely a well-hyped
first step that gets people into understanding the value of free software.
Once there, such converts will naturally migrate to BSD when they want to
do serious work -- or so the belief goes.
It's for this reason that the BSD world is full of comparisons with Linux.
The best known is a chart that's now being
distributed as FreeBSD marketing material.
Hubbard himself wrote an
excellent piece on the topic for Performance Computing magazine, October
1998 issue. In
the print version, the magazine publicized Hubbard's article using a
tasteless cartoon of the Linux penguin impaled on the BSD Daemon's trident.
A recent example of some less
thoughtful BSD-Linux comparisons appeared in the Boston Globe in September of this year, titled
"Even better than Linux." The piece no longer appears on the
Globe Web site (they didn't return calls to tell me why) but it has been
archived on this Spanish site. Ah, the wonders of the 'Net...
Battle for market share
There are a number of reasons given by BSD fans about why Linux has all the
attention even though BSD was around first.
Often mentioned is the rationale that BSD was involved in legal problems
with the owners of the "real" Unix code (AT&T, and later Novell) while
Linux was rising to prominence. Had lawyers not stood in the way of BSD's
wide release in the early 90's, who knows what the free software landscape
would look like today.
I see it differently. Linus Torvalds, more than the BSD folk or the GNU
folk or anyone else, succeeded personally in inviting and encouraging a
community effort as nobody had done before. It's this sense of widespread
community participation, in large part reflecting Torvalds' own skills at
herding cats, that has moved Linux past BSD (and past the GNU Hurd project) in
any perceived battle for the attention of the mainstream computing
In any case, the reasons why one would switch to FreeBSD from Linux still
aren't totally clear to me. The above-mentioned chart says that
FreeBSD has 20 to 30 percent better network performance than Linux. Yet
the only evidence offered to back that up is from a 1998 Gartner
Group report (the URL on the FreeBSD chart is wrong). But don't bother
paying the $95 for the report -- it really doesn't substantiate any BSD
In other words, there's precious little -- if anything -- to back up any
relative performance or robustness claims that would be usable today. I've
certainly not been able to find anything on the Web outside of anecdotes
and blind assertions.
So the oft-mentioned technical superiority of FreeBSD over Linux is still
a murky issue, and I will be glad to review and publicize any hard
evidence that I can get my hands on. What I do know is that FreeBSD is
rock-solid in powering high-volume Web servers or mail servers -- but
Linux is also proving its mettle in such situations. BSD fans are quick to
point out that FreeBSD powers Yahoo,
Walnut Creek (also known as cdrom.com)
and similar workhorse sites. I have certainly heard -- from people whose opinions I trust -- more than my share of glowing reports about FreeBSD's abilities to handle heavy Web traffic. But if someone is already using Linux
and is happy with it, I'm still uncertain why they would want to switch, or need to switch. Given the nature of free software, if BSD's networking code is
really that superior, it may find its way into Linux anyway -- just like
Especially for old-time Unix users coming into the world of free software,
or people looking for a solid Internet server, FreeBSD is absolutely worth
a look. Many of the technical differences between the two are detailed in
this nice HOWTO
document. But is BSD the "logical next step" from Linux that its users seem
it is? I'm yet-unconvinced, but I'm willing t