Linux contributors face new rules

Open Source Development Labs, the group that employs Linus Torvalds, puts in place a system designed to better track and document changes to the Linux kernel.

Mike Ricciuti
Mike Ricciuti Staff writer, CNET News
Mike Ricciuti joined CNET in 1996. He is now CNET News' Boston-based executive editor and east coast bureau chief, serving as department editor for business technology and software covered by CNET News, Reviews, and Download.com. E-mail Mike.
3 min read
Open Source Development Labs, which promotes adoption of Linux, said Monday it is putting in place a new system to better track and document changes to the operating system's kernel.

The group, which employs Linux creator Linus Torvalds, said the new system will require that contributions to the Linux kernel only be made by developers who agree to submit code under "appropriate" open-source licenses.

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The system puts in place an agreement called the Developer's Certificate of Origin, or DCO. The DCO will ensure that acknowledgement is given to developers for contributions and derivative works, and to those contributors who "receive submissions and pass them, unchanged, up the kernel tree," according to the open-source group.

The DCO is intended to eliminate questions and legal battles over the origin of Linux code contributions. Last year, the SCO Group, which owns a disputed amount of Unix intellectual property, sued IBM, alleging that the company violated its Unix contract by moving Unix technology to Linux that it should have kept secret.

The new system won't help answer questions about code already included in Linux. But it will help with future releases, said Stuart Cohen, the open-source group's chief executive. "Obviously, it's only on code submitted today going forward. But you can expect it will have a major effect on the 2.7 release (of the Linux kernel) coming out next." That release is "probably a year away," Cohen said.

The SCO-IBM case has ballooned into a far-ranging attack on Linux, attracting legal attention from Linux companies Novell and Red Hat and the ire of Linux supporters worldwide. SCO has also brought suit against several big companies that use Linux.

The SCO suit wasn't the sole reason for the move, Cohen said. "As Linux becomes more mainstream, and more companies and governments are involved in Linux," he said, "there are certain things that they would like to see as part of the documentation, as part of the process. The SCO lawsuit is what it is, and this really has no effect on that. We see that as more of a P.R. exercise."

On the subject of SCO, Torvalds wrote in a message sent Sunday to an Internet mailing list that "they've apparently made a couple of outlandish claims about where our source code comes from, including claiming to own code that was clearly written by me over a decade ago."

Torvalds added in the message, which was sent to a general Linux discussion group: "People have been pretty good (understatement of the year) at debunking those claims, but the fact is that part of that debunking involved searching kernel mailing list archives from 1992, etc. Not much fun. So, to avoid these kinds of issues 10 years from now, I'm suggesting that we put in more of a process to explicitly document not only where a patch comes from...but the path it came through."

The Open Source Development Labs' new system could help eliminate future battles over Linux code origin. The group said that under the DCO, all contributors to a particular submission are called upon to "sign off" on it before it may be considered for inclusion in the kernel.

Andrew Morton, who, along with Torvalds, maintains the current Linux 2.6 kernel, endorsed the new system after gaining support for it from other key Linux contributors, the open-source group said.

"We've always had transparency, peer review, pride and personal responsibility behind our open-source development method. With the DCO, we're trying to document the process. We want to make it simpler to link submitted code to its contributors. It's like signing your own work," Torvalds said in a statement.