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Linus Torvalds quits kernel development

[April 1, 2003] Linus quits kernel development. 

It's safe to say the most of the community were caught off guard by the announcement in the kernel-developer mailing list:

I really hate it. Ten years I am trying to debug this stupid kernel and it's still as buggy (or even more buggy) as version 0.91. Enough is enough, no kernel development anymore. Bye everybody on the list. Twelve years ago Linux looked like the likely winner of the PC Unix race. And it still tops the lists. But I am to tired and rich among to continue and I ask Eric Raymond to pick up the task.

There was a collective sigh of relief among proprietary UNIX vendors. Linux Torvalds  decision to withdraw from the kernel development signaled the dawn of a new Linux free-for-all party.  Sun saw a chance to take a shot at Microsoft/Novell and they took it.

An Sun spokesman said that Linus retirement means that Linux distributors are "number of boutiques but no department store." They promised to consider opening Solaris and Sun spokesman did not exclude the possibility of using GPL.  What many users don't like about Linux - Linux (and a lot of Linux software), that is - is the never-ending story of changing APIs - use something, update something else - Oops. That was never the case for Solaris. Sun feels that much of what holds Linux back is the unwillingness to adopt newer and better features because Linux is trying to wear many hats.

For upcoming Solaris 10 it could be a bigger boon than a lot of people realize. The licensing differences between Solaris and Linux are one of several factors slowing Solaris adoption, but with the departure of Linux Torvalds them Solaris users could benefit from ease of  migration of those users who will fear the fighting for Linux successor war. There is no clear cut successor for the development of the kernel Sun's spokesman stressed.

The prospect did raise a surprisingly positive response from one developer we contacted, who requested anonymity. "It's just a fucking semi-debugged kernel, and it's good that this ass in Portland finally realized that," he told us. The ass in question, being a well known Finnish software developer, and the trademark owner of the kernel in question, Linux. 

Although as a business Sun would only make statements about existing licenses, i.e., GPLv2, Sun might chose to wait till the GPLv3 is shaping up. The prospect of a Solaris released under a dual license, of which one is GPL v 3.0, therefore looks now more likely. And certainly enough of a prospect to start talking about the ramifications.

This might greatly help Sun to gain against IBM, a heavy proponent of the Linux kernel which will remain licensed under GPLv2.

A possible way for Sun and Solaris to gain even more mindshare is by exploiting a division and inner struggle in the OSS community due to Linus retirement. As there is a divide between kernel developers as for GPLv3  Solaris has more to gain than to lose by going GPLv3. To users and developers in general, Sun comes off as an even bolder, more progressive leader.  IBM would be caught off guard again.

Most industry observers agree that while for Sun the Solaris move to GPLv3 can be disruptive but what is really  important to Sun is that it can be more disruptive for IBM. Some industry observers closely connected to IBM criticized the possible move:

Sun has made some of the worst strategic decisions in the IT industry for the past decade or so. Why would GPL'ing their main products be any better? Where are they going to make money? Bake sales? Are they going to pay their people with warm fuzzy feelings? Yeah, Sun may do it. But I'm betting it'll kill them long term. In fact, now may be a good time to short the stock, and expect the payoff to be complete in about 5 years.