Unix Labs' Berkeley Software Design Suit Finds Berkeley University in Disarray

By Maureen O'Gara

August 6 1992

Besides Berkeley Software Design Inc's BSD/386 operating system, there is another body of 80386 code making the rounds. That code got started in conjunction with the same University of California lab that Berkeley Software Design's did and traces its roots first to 4.3BSD Tahoe and ultimately to the same NET2 subset source. This code is confusingly named 386BSD after the original 386BSD project that kicked off in the university's Computer Systems Research Group in 1989.

The man who says he named both pieces of software is former 386BSD project leader and principal developer of BSD 2.8 and 2.9, Bill Jolitz. Jolitz is said to have mortgaged his house to start the initial 386BSD project and subsequently finished it in his own time.

The code and its rationale were published over the course of a year in Dr Dobbs' Journal beginning in January of 1991. It was also picked up by Dr Dobbs' sister publication Unix Magazin in Germany. The full code has been available on the Internet for the last two months and was to go on CompuServe last week, according to Dr Dobbs' editor Jonathan Erickson. He estimates that 386BSD is currently in the hands of 100,000 people.

Best Man

Jolitz, interviewed by our sister paper Unigram.X last week, says that his 386BSD, at least in its initial versions, was encumbered. He also says that 386BSD is the basis of Berkeley Software Design's BSD/386 which he worked on in 1991 at the Computer Systems Research Group initially under the financial sponsorship of UUNet Technologies.

Last summer his cheques started coming from Berkeley Software Design. He claims he was never officially hired by Berkeley Software Design and signed no employment contract with the firm, which he believes is the brainchild of UUNet chief Rick Adams and former the Computer Systems Research Group staffer Mike Karels who was Best Man at Jolitz's wedding. However, Jolitz was apparently crucial to the project since none of Berkeley Software Design's principals, alias the Computer Systems Research Group's staffers, knew much about 80386 Berkeley and couldn't maintain it.

386BSD was originally intended to be "a university curiosity," Jolitz said, a non-commercial, non-industrial-strength way for students, faculty and researchers to have access to Berkeley code on inexpensive machines. Increasingly through last year it became apparent that what the Computer Systems Research Group wanted was "basically the same thing as Berkeley Software Design:" an unencumbered commercial system. Ultimately, he says, he opposed the initiative since it would mean terminating the 386BSD project, an action the Computer Systems Research Group has taken, as well as having him renege on a published promise to produce freely accessible 80386 code.

He broke with Berkeley Software Design in November, he says, but not before Usenix mysteriously refused to allow him to present a paper on his 80386 work and Berkeley Software Design offered to cut him in - in return for the title to his house. The first tack he regards as a way for the Computer Systems Research Group and Berkeley Software Design to limit competition. The second tactic he regards as an attempt to keep him in line.

He says he attempted to bring what was happening to the attention of university authorities such as the Computer Systems Research Group's faculty overseer Susan Graham and its Office of Technology Licensing, but was sloughed off. He claims the university is guilty of "incompetent stewardship." He subsequently received letters from the Computer Systems Research Group and university counsel claiming that all the work he had contributed to Berkeley since NET2 was "University proprietary," a phrase he had never heard before.

In November he was asked to destroy all his own work and anything in his possession having to do with Berkeley or 80386. He says he complied and rewrote the current 386BSD Release 0.0 from scratch. He says he receives no money from Berkeley Software Design for his code though he alleges Berkeley Software Design has told its customers that he does. Jolitz does not believe NET2 is encumbered.

Meantime, back at the war between Unix System Laboratories Inc and Berkeley Software Design Inc, a couple of weeks ago, the latter put the full text of Unix Labs' initial complaint (but not the expanded suit) on UUNet, ostensibly because so many people were asking to see the exact wording. By last Tuesday or Wednesday the traffic on UUNet over the suit got so heavy that the protesters formed their own group (alt.suit.att-bsdi) - and this was before the news came out that the University of California at Berkeley is being brought up on charges too.

The group, reminiscent of the old drug-happy hippy-freak Unix culture that was so enamoured of free software, was at one point calling for a boycott of AT&T services. As might be expected, the move has stirred up a hornet's nest of academic fear and loathing against Unix Labs and has created a cadre of naive tech weenies ready to form a lynch mob. For all their thousands of lines of protests, however, no one has flat out denied Unix Labs's intellectual property rights.

Test case

Unix Labs's suit asks the courts to oblige the University of California at Berkeley to abide by its licence from Unix Labs. It also wants the school to recall all copies of NET2. Sources say that Unix System Labs didn't exactly want to sue the university, but basically has no choice and regards this as a test case. Unix Labs is seeking an unstipulated amount of actual and compensatory damages from the University of California at Berkeley as well as legal fees. It wants the same from Berkeley Software Design plus punitive damages.

Berkeley Software Design is reportedly getting set to move from a beta to a gamma version of BSD/386 either this week or next. It says it has distributed over 300 copies of the beta system to an assortment of users including hackers, old MS-DOS buffs and big brand name computer makers. Berkeley Software Design is also getting set to expand its distributor base.

Copyright 1992