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From: Clem Cole <>
To: "Theodore Y. Ts'o" <>, COFF <>
Subject: Re: [COFF] [TUHS] 386BSD released
Date: Mon, 19 Jul 2021 16:08:34 -0400	[thread overview]
Message-ID: <> (raw)
In-Reply-To: <YPW4mN5m/>

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On Mon, Jul 19, 2021 at 1:38 PM Theodore Y. Ts'o <> wrote:

> However, I strongly contest the claim that Unix was "Open Source".
> Unix was the UNPUBLISHED TRADE SECRET of AT&T, and students exposed to
> Unix source code became contaminated with AT&T's "methods and
> concepts" clause.

But it was not.   And in fact, the whole thing about the AT&T court case
was that most of thought it was about *copyright, *not if it was a *trade
secret* (Which is why they lost) in the end.
Note Jack Haverty's words to me last night about UNIX in the mid-1970s when
he was working the first PDP-11/40 TCP implementation show he was is
thinking the same way as I am: * the fact that an incompetent novice can
make changes to **open source.*

BTW: I asked Jack last night what type of license BBN had.  He responded
that he did not think they really had one originally.   They were an ARPA
contractor.  He (i.e. BBN) did not have to go into legal hoops until he
wanted more documentation (*a.k.a.* the Lions text).

The concern was not that we were going to be sue for being mentally
contaminated,  that whole idea did not come about until after the law suite.

> So they couldn't even *reimplement* Unix without potentially getting sued
> by AT&T.
Which of course is what made the whole thing silly.   The first 'UNIX
clone' was by an ex-BTL, Dave Plauger's Idris, an implementation of v6.
Many others would follow, from Coherent to Sol, Chorus, Minix, and Linux to
name a few quickly.  In fact, AT&T did check on the Mark Williams code
base.   Dennis once wrote about having to check out the sources for the
lawyers.   As I understand it, the AT&T team concluded that while the MW
team may not have directly taken the AT&T code, the MW folks clearly had
seen it [which the Mark Williams folks I do not believe ever denied].  AT&T
chose not to pursue them.  It was not until BSDi/UCB that they literally
made of case of it.  Which again was why so many of us thought that case
was about copyright, not trade secrets.   It had never been really
discussed with us ->> on the outside<< of BTL (it would later learn from
Dennis and few others that they had discussed TS with their lawyers at some

Your thinking would be reasonable *iff* AT&T had won the case, but the fact
is the ideas (IP) and even the source to the basic UNIX was open and
available.  The IP was published by but in places like CACM and from
Prentiss-Hall.  Larry's point is a solid one, is that *to get access *was
limited by having the *means to afford the licenses* but more importantly
it was having the *means to afford the hardware* to run it.  So until a
computer and 'mortal could own' on his own, AND that could support UNIX
*(i.e.* a 386-based PC), the issue was moot.

I point out that the 1956 consent decree *>>required<<* AT&T to make UNIX
(like the transistor before that) available to all *'interested parties*'
(see Pinheiro J. (1987). “AT&T Divestiture & the Telecommunications
Market”, Berkeley Technical Law Journal, 303, September 1987, Volume 2,
Issue 2, Article 5 if you don't believe me).   They had to make it
available to research folks and we allowed to license its use to commercial
people using 'fair and reasonable licensing terms regulated by the US Gov.
  You can suggest that $20K was unreasonable for personal use, but again it
was not unreasonable for a University ($150) or for the commercial sector
for that matter and those were the people buying the computers in those

The practice of the day was to make the sources (which of course were
written in assembler) to the customers of your hardware.  And by the way,
IBM was not going to 'sue your pants off' as you mentioned.  The first
'clone market' was in fact the IBM 360 clones and IBM licensed their SW to
non-IBM HW customers (like Amdahl, Nixdorf, and NEC to name 3) because IBM
was afraid of being sued by the US Gov!!!   It was folks like DEC that sued
Cal Data for 'cloning the PDP-11,' not IBM.

Yes, UNIX was licensed and yes the IP was owned by AT&T.  But that's really
not much different than a GPL2 which is licensed and owned by someone
else.  The rules of use are different, however.  But the source was just as
open.  A difference was how it was distributed (you had to be part of the
club in Larry's terms) but anyone that could pay the HW fees could join the

Larry has made an excellent point (which I agree with), is that in practice
it was clubby.  But in my defense ... the was the same club as before.  You
had to have the hardware and the need.  But if you had that you could get
to it.  Hey Ted, you were part of that club too -- you had access to things
at MIT Athena that most people did not see.  MIT had paid the club fees and
gotten the HW.  Frankly, you personally had way more access to the sources
as an MIT undergrad with a job at Athena, than say, Larry did at U Wis.

What changed was Moore's law and who afford (and thus get access) to the HW
and *economics associated with the desire to obtain* but please don't try
to say the behavior or intent was any different.   It just was not.   We
once called this the 'hacker culture' -- we are all in it together and we
shared what we had with each other.

FWIW:  this is has been discussed in other books and areas too.   It was
noted that the late 1960s 'hippie' sharing culture around the SFO area
played into too.   Steve Levy's wonderful book 'Hackers' talks about it
from the MIT Model RR club.  In fact, the last chapter of his book is
dedicated to RMS and calls him 'the last hacker.'

Methinks the horse is dead  ... you can think it's new.  It just was not.
You can say, UNIX closed because you came upon it a timer when the versions
that mattered (SunOS/Solaris/Ultrix/AIX/etc...)were becoming less available
to you as a user.   But the fact is the core material of UNIX was open.  We
all had access to it that's what made it great.  We did and could access
and change it.  We could share it.  Sometimes we chose to clone it.
Sometimes we even improved on it (and sometimes like systemd, we can argue
if we did).

It did not become more of a 'closed' until the HW economics changed the
rules, which just happens to be when you and others came of age.  Which is
fine, just please, please, please respect that the whole FOSS movement got
its start because of foundations and ideas that came long before.   The
cool part is the because of the new economics, you were able to do
something with it and expand it.  I do celebrate and laud you for that.
But I do also ask that your respect the foundation which gave you that


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COFF mailing list

  parent reply	other threads:[~2021-07-19 20:09 UTC|newest]

Thread overview: 31+ messages / expand[flat|nested]  mbox.gz  Atom feed  top
     [not found] <>
     [not found] ` <>
2021-07-15  6:33   ` Michael Kjörling
2021-07-15 20:44     ` Derek Fawcus
2021-07-15 15:07   ` Clem Cole
2021-07-15 19:33     ` Theodore Y. Ts'o
2021-07-15 20:30       ` Clem Cole
2021-07-16  1:58         ` Theodore Y. Ts'o
2021-07-16  2:14           ` George Michaelson
2021-07-16 18:02           ` Grant Taylor via COFF
2021-07-17  4:09             ` Theodore Y. Ts'o
2021-07-17  6:30               ` [COFF] " Tom Ivar Helbekkmo via COFF
2021-07-17 12:37                 ` Theodore Y. Ts'o
2021-07-17 13:30                   ` Tom Ivar Helbekkmo via COFF
2021-07-18  3:29               ` [COFF] [TUHS] " Grant Taylor via COFF
2021-07-18  3:42                 ` David Arnold
2021-07-18  4:01                   ` Grant Taylor via COFF
2021-07-19 13:41                     ` Theodore Y. Ts'o
2021-07-19 14:50                       ` Clem Cole
2021-07-19 17:38                         ` Theodore Y. Ts'o
2021-07-19 19:33                           ` John P. Linderman
2021-07-19 20:21                             ` Clem Cole
2021-07-20  1:05                             ` Grant Taylor via COFF
2021-07-19 20:08                           ` Clem Cole [this message]
2021-07-20  0:55                             ` Theodore Y. Ts'o
2021-07-18  6:44                   ` Andy Kosela
2021-07-16 16:11         ` Jonathan Corbet
2021-07-15 23:02       ` joe mcguckin
     [not found] <>
     [not found] ` <213a4c11-3ab2-4b4a-8d6b-b52105a19711@localhost>
     [not found]   ` <>
2021-07-14 15:01     ` Clem Cole
2021-07-14 17:40       ` Theodore Y. Ts'o
2021-07-14 17:50         ` Larry McVoy
2021-07-14 18:28         ` Clem Cole
2021-07-14 20:03         ` John Cowan

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