FreeBSD to change hands

The founder of a company that, in 1993, first published the open-source version of Unix will once again be in charge of the core FreeBSD business.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read
FreeBSD is going home.

Bob Bruce, founder of Walnut Creek CDROM--the company that in 1993 first published FreeBSD--will once again be in charge of the core FreeBSD business. That's because the current owner, Wind River Systems, announced Monday that it is selling off its assets related to FreeBSD, an open-source version of Unix.

Bruce has also become CEO of FreeBSD Mall, the new name of Walnut Creek CDROM and one of the FreeBSD assets that Wind River has owned.

Wind River, an embedded operating-system developer based in Alameda, Calif., bought many FreeBSD assets in April, including FreeBSD Mall itself. Wind River subsequently decided in October to sell its FreeBSD assets.

Under a deal expected to close by the end of January, Wind River will transfer to FreeBSD Mall several FreeBSD assets and employees--including four core programmers, some computing equipment, an existing customer base and the FreeBSD trademark--said Larry Macfarlane, senior director of Wind River's application platforms product division.

Monday's move caps a somewhat chaotic stewardship for the FreeBSD project. Walnut Creek CDROM was acquired by Berkeley Software Design Inc. (BSDi), which had a related version of Unix called BSD/OS. Wind River acquired BSDi in April and is keeping the BSD/OS assets while selling off the FreeBSD assets.

FreeBSD Mall, though, wasn't expected to be the one to take over the assets. CD-ROM publisher Daemon News announced back in October that it planned to carry the baton.

Wind River's decision leaves Daemon News in an "awkward" position, said Daemon News CEO Chris Coleman, but the company plans to continue with its plan to produce versions of FreeBSD and expects revenue to increase when version 4.5 comes out, currently scheduled for Jan. 25.

"It is kind of an awkward situation to be put in, but we have commitments we can't back down from. And it makes sense financially to go ahead with what we've set in motion," Coleman said.

Daemon News will still be able to publish and sell the software because of the open-source nature of FreeBSD.

Daemon News' statement in October that it wanted to take on FreeBSD publishing was unexpected, Macfarlane said.

"We've got to admit we were surprised by that Daemon News announcement. That came at a time when Wind River was first looking at getting out of the BSD project," Macfarlane said. "They jumped the gun quite significantly."

The Daemon News plan, though, had no bearing on Wind River's decision to choose FreeBSD Mall, he added.

FreeBSD and its close relatives NetBSD and OpenBSD all are open-source projects, meaning that anyone can see, change and distribute the underlying source code. Unlike with the Linux operating system, another open-source project, companies can convert the BSD versions into proprietary software.

Meanwhile, various fragments of the BSD world continue to advance.

Wind River now has about 30 people working on BSD/OS, and Macfarlane said he hopes the original Wind River plan of cross-pollination with FreeBSD will take place. Many Unix software packages such as Sendmail or Apache work on BSD/OS, but "there are enough differences that not everything runs," Macfarlane said.

The company hopes to contribute proprietary BSD/OS technology to FreeBSD and to incorporate FreeBSD technology into BSD/OS to achieve this harmony, Macfarlane added.

Meanwhile, Daemon News is selling versions of Darwin, the FreeBSD-based underpinnings of Apple Computer's Mac OS X, Coleman said. And the company hopes to add installation software and software package management to FreeBSD, perhaps initially under a proprietary license.