It seems that once every while I end up talking about BitKeeper for some or other reason. In fact, this diary entry is probably going to push my previous entry about BK off the front page :) Last time I was talking about how dangerous it can be to trust proprietary companies. I think now we can begin to see the danger I talked about.
I nicked this off the latest "KernelTraffic" bulletin (#206), which in turn (I hope) quoted Larry McVoy on the Linux Kernel Mailing List:
"One answer, maybe the only viable answer, is to use patents to protect our technology. To date we've been very sparing in where we have done that, there are substantial chunks of BK without patent protection. Some leaders in the kernel group have privately told me to not ship BK without patent protection. That slows down how fast you get a better BK, it's not something we can just wave our hands and make be so, it's lots of time and money. A single patent costs more than enough bandwidth to keep all of you happy for a year. Whatever. If you guys can't come to some sort of consensus, then patents are the route we'll choose, even German law respects patents."
This paragraph comes after how Larry explains that he sees no legal way of reverse engineering the BK protocol. Incidentally, the reference to German law was exactly about that - someone dared to suggest that reverse engineering was legal in Europe (to the best of my knowledge, it is), so Larry has resorted to patent threats (which, to the best of my knowledge, should not be legal in Europe). We can now see exactly where this is going.
I now hope for two things, I think. I hope that Larry patents BK "technology", not because I like software patents, but because I think people will respond to potential problems when they are no longer potential :-(. Also, I hope someone does take the time to reverse engineer the BK protocol. Again, this would cause the BitMover people to show their true nature. Free Software has been built on the principle of providing free solutions that replace proprietary solutions, and being able to reverse engineer is a corner stone of this (and much proprietary work also). Let's hope this is resolved one way or the other....