Unix pioneer ends BSD research

UCal Berkeley blames lawsuit by USL

Berkeley Software Design; Unix Systems Laboratories Inc.; University of California Berkeley's Computer Systems Research Group - Field Report

By Elizabeth U. Harding
Software Magazine

October 1992

After 19 years of notable contributions to the Unix world, both in developing software and in creating engineering talent, the University of California at Berkeley is ending its Unix research operation. The move by administrators to close the unit came at the start of a sharp dispute over ownership of derivative software technology.

In the eye of the storm is the second release of the university's "Berkeley Network Software Distribution," or NET/2 software. The Computer Systems Research Group (CSRG), Berkeley's Unix research and development arm, contends NET/2 is free of AT&T copyrighted Unix code and therefore does not require an AT&T license.

However, Unix System Laboratories, Inc. (USL), Summit, N.J., controller of the Unix kernel and 65% owned by AT&T, disputes that claim and has turned to the courts.

The dispute started last spring when USL officials were alerted to an advertisement of Berkeley Software Design, Inc. (BSDI), Falls Church, Va., that offered "Berkeley Unix" source code at minimal cost without the need for a license from AT&T. A source code license from BSDI lists at $1,000. The USL price tag for a Unix source license is $100,000.

The advertising and the fact that the founders of BSDI included Berkeley veterans Richard Adams, BSDI president, and Michael Kerels, a software architect, fueled USL's suspicions that the company was illegally selling AT&T code.

USL subsequently filed a lawsuit charging that BSDI infringed on its copyright. The lawsuit was recently amended to include UCal Berkeley, which has licensing agreements with AT&T for BSD Unix, but contends that AT&T code was eliminated in the NET/2 network Unix.

Tracing Involvement

Berkeley's involvement with the operating system began in January 1974, when engineers developed an implementation of Version 4 Unix from AT&T's Bell Labs for the 16-bit PDP-11/45 minicomputer from Digital Equipment Corp., Maynard, Mass.

In the summer of 1976, Berkeley graduate student Bill Joy analyzed the internal workings of the Unix kernel and developed the first "Berkeley Software Distribution" (BSD) implementation in 1977. When Berkeley installed a 32-bit DEC VAX-11/780 system in early 1978 and Bell Labs furnished the university with a copy of their 32/V port of Unix to the VAX, Joy ported the second version of BSD software to the VAX. The port began shipping commercially in December 1979.

In 1979, the Washington, D.C.-based Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) funded development of an enhanced version of 3BSD. Joy led the project, which became known as CSRG, until leaving Berkeley to co-found Sun Microsystems, Inc., Mountain View, Calif. Darpa also funded the addition of a fast filesystem, disk View, Calif. Darpa also funded the addition of a fast filesystem, disk quotas and a socket interface to TCP/IP networking support to BSD 4.1.

After years of Unix development, CSRG officials in 1988 concluded that most of the code acquired from AT&T was no longer incorporated in BSD. In the spring of 1988 the university began distributing NET/1, the first networking version of BSD, without an AT&T source license. The NET/1 software was aimed at vendors looking to add the Berkeley TCP/IP code to Unix implementations and users seeking access to BSD source code.

In mid-1991, CSRG unveiled NET/2, which was also sold without an AT&T source license. Hundreds of thousands of NET/2 copies were distributed through public network archives, university officials said. Despite the success of NET/2, the disagreement surrounding it is partially blamed for forcing the university to decide to disband its Unix operation.

"We are victims of our own success," asserted Keith Bostic, a BSD architect at the university. He said the commercial success made BSD too complex for a group of four people to support. "We have to spend a large amount of time on support and maintenance and less on research. We are also spending too much time looking for funds. I'm technical and want to stay this way."

UCal Berkeley computer science Prof. Michael Stonebreaker, developer of the Ingres relational DBMS, asserted that the time had come for the university to leave the Unix business.

"The Berkeley group was central in furthering Unix in the early 1980s when they came out with BSD [Version 4.0]," he said. "CSRG had a very valuable function--they were the keepers of the flame. But now it's time to move on to something else. A university group has no business doing it once the commercial giants take over. Our basic mission is pure research."

"USL is trying to portray a picture of intrigue," said Daniel Appelman, BSDI's attorney. "USL is trying to use this lawsuit to inhibit innovation in Unix-compatible systems. If successful, it will have a chilling effect on the development of a large class of software."

BSDI has sold about 350 copies of the BSD/386 system since shipments started this year, said a spokeswoman. The firm contends that it is not required to license code from AT&T because BSD/386 is based on NET/2.

"BSDI is looking to the university for its authority to distribute code without a license," said Appelman.

"In our opinion, NET/2 does not require any type of license," said Mary MacDonald, an attorney representing the university. She added that the university has no relationship with BSDI other than as a provider of a NET/2 license. MacDonald said that the university has questioned the timing of the lawsuit. "NET/2 was released last summer. Why did it take USL eight months to raise this issue?"

Mixed Views

Officials of USL have mixed views of the company's position on the alleged copyright infringement. A spokesman said that the university has infringed on AT&T copyrights for years, while its in-house counsel maintains that the alleged problems began with the first shipment of NET/2 in mid-1991.

Sandy Tannenbaum, USL's executive vice president and general counsel, said that Berkeley first infringed on the copyright with the shipment of NET/2 to non-licensees of USL. "We are not concerned about NET/1, which is a smaller piece of software and very different from NET/2," he said. "NET/2 is more comparable to earlier BSD releases, such as BSD 4.2 and BSD 4.3," which are still sold with AT&T licenses.

"USL is demanding that Berkeley withdraw NET/2 distribution," said John Gilmore, co-founder of Cygnus Support, Palo Alto, Calif. "Berkeley went through a lot of work to take out anything that's possibly proprietary. There is no reason that they should take back the release."

Cygnus uses pieces of NET/2 in its C development system. "We have no intention of paying royalties to USL," Gilmore said. "We'd rather rewrite." Some observers contend that USL's suit was prompted by increasing competition from start-up BSDI. "It appears to me that AT&T is nervous because people use the BSDI product," said Bjorn Satdeva, president of sys/admin, a San Jose, Calif., Unix consulting company. "AT&T is suing, because BSDI has a superior product. Instead of fixing their product, [AT&T is] trying to put BSDI out of business by tying up resources."

"I think firms will begin to strip out AT&T code and come out with their own products," said Mikki Barry, vice president of engineering at Intercon, Herndon, Va. "I don't agree with the stranglehold AT&T is putting on Unix."

"It's as if USL dropped a rock in a pond; the ripple effect will spread out quite a ways. Any Unix workstation vendor could be affected by this," said Dave Langley, vice president of marketing at the Wollongong Group, a Unix developer in Palo Alto, Calif.

"Since USL is not saying which parts of NET/2 are in violation, they've made everybody in the Unix community scared to use NET/2," said Richard Stallman, president of the Free Software Foundation, Cambridge, Mass. "We don't have any way to find out which programs not to use since we are not able to compare the NET/2 source code against the AT&T source code. This threatens the use of all programs in NET/2, including those that do not infringe. AT&T is now attacking the entire Unix community. It affects more than BSDI," he added.

"If all infringing portions of NET/2 were removed, we would have no objection to the university using the non-infringing portions in any way they choose," said USL's Tannenbaum. "No one is trying to stop anyone from independently developing software as long as its non-infringing."

"Berkeley's mission with NET/2 has always been to get rid of AT&T code," said Doug Carter, contract programmer at Merwin Software Services, Beaverton, Ore. "AT&T never led Unix anywhere. Berkeley added functionality to Unix. AT&T never cared about it before and gave Berkeley lots of latitude. Now AT&T sees an opportunity to make money."


COPYRIGHT 1992 Wiesner Publications, Inc.