Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Cathedral is bizarre

I can't friggin' believe Larry McVoy. I mean, I just don't understand him.

Here he is, lead designer of a powerful version control system(VCS). For a long time, BitKeeper had very good buzz in the open source world. (And, perhaps, even in the Free Software one.)

You'd think he would be proud. You'd think he'd focus on how to do even better. The last thing I expect from someone who's done great service to Linux is anticompetitive behaviour.

But lately, that's the kind of stuff we've seen. A while back, he cut Linus out because Tridge was writing an open-source Bitkeeper client. How does that work again? Now he's forced Brian O'Sullivan to stop working Mercurial, claiming he fears O'Sullivan will copy Bitkeeper's secret sauce.

Well, last time I checked, BitKeeper was a proprietary, closed-source program. Since Brian can't copy the source code, it can't be an issue of copyright infringement. No, Larry fears that Brian will copy ideas from BitKeeper.

In the first place, isn't that totally wrong? You shouldn't build a better mousetrap if you know how current mousetraps work? Edison has to invent lightbulbs in the dark? The hell?

In the second place, if Larry thinks his ideas are so special, why doesn't he patent them?

One possible reason is that not all the ideas are his own. BK is heavily based on SCCS, a 30 year-old VCS. It uses SCCS files to store its data. From what we can tell, its merge technology is also based on SCCS.

So Larry can base his VCS on someone else's, but Brian can't base his VCS on Larry's? Sure, that seems fair.

Look at the FOSS side of things, and there are no secrets. There's more than a few projects to build a great distributed VCS in progress at the moment, like Bazaar-NG (the one I'm with), Monotone, Codeville, Mercurial, Darcs, SVK, and more. Not only is the code open, but we're always chatting on IRC about merge algorithms, the merits and demerits of GUIDs for files, and other technology. IRC's where I first heard about Larry's latest escapades.

Maybe you think I should be happy that Mercurial's hit a bump in the road? Don't they say the enemy of my enemy is my friend? Maybe they do, but Brian O'Sullivan isn't my enemy, he's a competitor. We both want the better open-source VCSes. Why shouldn't we copy each others' best ideas?

Larry, he could have been another friendly competitor. But with anticompetitive behaviour and his talk of "innovation", he's starting to remind me of another of Free Software's enemies. But Microsoft has Visual Source Safe, which makes them BitKeeper's enemy, too. So I guess the enemy of my enemy is my enemy.

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