Archivist's note: Original location is http://web.mit.edu/pmitros/www/lsa/. I'm maintaining this copy because it's an important story in the history of GNU/Linux, which ought not to get lost accidentally.
Linux Standards Association Clearinghouse
This site is no longer maintained. The LSA is effectively dead. A number of other events have happened since this site was last updated that I have not had the resources to keep track of:
- linuxhq.com mysteriously disappeared out from under its maintainer, Jim Pick, and appeared in the hands of Mike McLagan. Jim didn't know why this happened, and moved his site to kernelnotes.org. No one I've spoken to is sure of the politics of what happened here.
- Mike's contract with his ISP was terminated. Mike threw a fit, and his ISP ended up getting screwed in the process. Again, I don't know the details.
- Mike grabbed large numbers of other Linux-related domain names (for instance, linuxportal.org, linuxportal.net, linuxportal.com). Someone just mentioned this, and again, I don't know details.
- A couple of other, minor events.
This site now only exists for historical purposes.
This site is meant as a clearinghouse of information about Mike McLagan, the Linux Standards Association, and the recent debates. If you have any information, e-mail conversations with Mike, editorials, or anything else you would like me to put up, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include everything as plain text in the message. I don't have time to respond to all e-mails, but I do read all of them. I reserve the right to publish anything sent to this address.
Update: Internic apparently suspended www.linuxstandards.org, the main LSA site. It can still be accessed at http://188.8.131.52/. I don't know any details about what happened yet. (Oct 10, 98)
On August 18, 1998, a press release appeared on slashdot.org about a new Linux standards organization called the LSA. Although the press release was sent by Lucy Kendall, the organization was quickly traced back to Mike McLagan, maintainer of www.linux.org.
A debate followed. Most people were quite critical of the new organization, for a number of reasons (some valid, some invalid):
- Grabbing the term 'Standard Linux' as a trademark
- Claimed full intellectual property rights to anything sent to the LSA
- The two 'charter members' retained veto power over other members. Both charter members were previously mostly unknown in the free software community.
- 'Regular membership' cost large amounts of money
- The LSA retained the right to arbitrarily not renew memberships
- The press release was grammatically incorrect
- The quote: "If it's good enough for NT, it's good enough for Linux" under the testimonials section of their web site
- Creating their web site in Microsoft FrontPage
- The press release seemed to use terms not common in the free software community (for instance, LOS as an acronym for Linux Operating System)
- Overall, starting to appear to many as a get-rich-quick (by over charging regular members), proprietize-Linux scheme (despite later claims that it was not a fly-by-night operation, but that it took several entire weeks of planning)
Much of the debate quickly deteriorated into emotional and irrational accusations and speculation. However, the most common view seemed to be that LSA had to be stopped. A secondary view was that GNU/Linux was an open community, and anyone could do whatever they wanted (including starting a closed standards group). A common response was that they still didn't have right to the 'Standard Linux' trademark, anymore than the fellow in Boston had the right to grab the 'Linux' trademark a few months back. One or two people viewed the LSA as a good thing.
In response, Mike has posted an editorial on slashdot, which met with more flameage. Ian Nandhra, of NC-Labs (one of LSA's charter members) posted another one on freshmeat, which addressed the need for standards, but did not address the problems with the LSA. The comments section from the referring slashdot article had little flameage, beyond stating that the editorial says very little.
Since then, most likely to counter the LSA, a number of vendors have joined the Linux Standard Base project. The list includes almost all major distributions, including Caldera, Debian, Red Hat and SuSE. The Most prominent missing ones are Slackware (which uses a BSD-style boot, is quite different from the others in structure, and hence couldn't be easily standardized) and Stampede (which is growing, but is still relatively minor).
About Mike McLagan
Mike is the founder, CEO and president of the LSA. He is also the owner/president of Innovative Solutions, and the maintainer of Linux On-line. He wrote the original implementation of frame relay drivers for the Linux kernel, a routing patch for 2.1.XX kernels, and apparently, a few minor free programs (if anyone has references, please e-mail me). He has been quoted as saying that he regrets contributing to the Linux kernel, although it is unclear whether he meant it.
I also received this tidbit from Christopher Craig: ``Though it isn't of particular relevance to LSA, I think it is important to note that Mike McLagan is founder/CEO/Domain owner for Team OS/2 and is still quite active in the OS/2 community.'' Their web site does appear to be maintained by Mike's company (and it also contains advertising).
In the past, he's had a few minor run-ins with the free software community. The most prominent was about the banner ads on www.linux.org. Some people believed that a common resource, like the linux.org domain name should not be commercialized. He has stated that he has not made any profits from these, attributing the income to equipment, bandwidth and ``staffing costs''. With an estimated user-base of 7,000,000, and an estimated ten hits per user, that would come to 70,000,000 hits. At a penny an ad, that would come to $700,000 (for comparison, rates at doubleclick.net are two to six cents, depending on level of targeting). He also has three links to amazon.com from the main page (which offers referral royalties), and pushes his own businesses from linux.org. He has also consistently refused to turn linux.org over to organizations willing to maintain it without advertising. He has even been offered, in his own words, ``reasonably large sums of money'' for linux.org, and has refused to sell it (according to an e-mail I received from another source, a few thousand dollars).
Most gripes are about his strong arm tactics towards members of the free software community (see the e-mails), the intellectual property and closed membership issues of LSA, and claims that he grabs resources that there is only one of (such as the trademark 'Standard Linux' and the domain name linux.org), and tries to cash in on them. The more recent comments have focused much more on the IP and closed membership issues of the LSA, since the linux.org issue, and the forceful tactics seem to be less pertinent at the moment.
E-mails Conversations With Mike
I was able to post a few e-mail conversations people have had with Mike and other the LSA members. The first series is really worth a read. Please e-mail me if you know of any others:
- Mike sent a flame to Gabe Ricard of the Stampede project for a post on Slashdot. When Gabe posted a copy of that letter on slashdot, Mike threatened to sue. Gabe posted that to slashdot. Mike sent of yet another flame, which I think Gabe decided was no longer worthy of slashdot. James Renken wrote a hilarious analysis of the original letter. Since Mike threatened to sue (claiming he held the copyright to any e-mail he sent) and have the site taken down, dozens of mirrors of the e-mails popped up. Two are at http://linuxace.futureunix.net/lsa/ and http://LSA.weyland-yutani.net/.
- In one of Mike's editorials, he claimed that Linus Torvalds' 'Linux' trademark was invalid. From Linux Howto, I have the contents of the e-mail discussion he later had with Linux International about the issue. Mike finally acknowledged the trademark, and began using it properly.
- Clemmitt Sigler wrote in and sent an e-mail with a conversation he had with Mike. The original e-mail he sent me contains a good, quick summary if you don't want to read the whole exchange. A very interesting development has since taken place. Jeff Licquia pointed out that, by to understanding, a comment made by Mike about consulting Linus' original lawyer about the invalidity of the ``Linux'' trademark could not have been true. Clemmitt Sigler confirmed Mike's wording. Jeff then wrote to Linus' lawyer to confirm the issue. G. Gervaise Davis III, Linus' lawyer from the ``Linux'' case, responded that ``Mike's comments are not entirely wrong, but misstate the situation badly,'' and went on to confirm that the Linux trademark is valid in the US and a number of European countries. Mike sent a response saying that he never claimed Mr. Davis advised him that the Linus mark was invalid. Rereading over the original wording, it is sounds like Mike is stating what Clemmitt and Jeff think he's stating, but the wording is vague. To respond to another note from the e-mails: the LSA does, indeed, claim trademark rights to ``Standard Linux.'' I apologize if this is starting to sound like a mix between Jerry Springer and 20/20. I'll edit it into something a bit better when I get the time.
- A little upset after reading one of Mike's responses, I fear I lost my temper and sent this e-mail to Mike and a few of his friends. I argued that 'Standard Linux' could not be trademarked, because of common usage. I did not receive a response from Mike, but I received a rather frantic response from Ian at NC-Labs. Unfortunately, he misread my e-mail and thought I was arguing the 'Linux' trademark issue, not the 'Linux Standard' trademark issue.
- I also sent an e-mail to Mike, asking him to check this site for accuracy, but he again didn't respond.
- Uttiya Chowdhury sent me the last two e-mail in a conversation he had with Mike about the banner ads on Linux.org: his message to Mike, and the response. Although he didn't send me the past messages in the exchange, enough is quoted that it's obvious what they were. Coincidentally, from ftp.linux.org that Mike mentions he needs to buy new hard drives for: The current limit for anonymous users is 3. To Mike's credit, this has since gone up to 10.
This is all the information I could find on the matter. Enjoy!
- The LSA Web Site
- The LSB Web Site
- The original announcement on slashdot, and the debate that followed. Almost completely opposed to LSA. (dated 8/18/98)
- The original LSA announcement, complete with grammar errors and typos, as sent to CNET. Shamelessly stolen from Linux Weekly News (dated 8/18/98).
- Mike's response to the slashdot debate (dated 8/19/98).
- Ian Nandhara's response to the whole issue. Ian is from NC-Labs, one of the two charter members of LSA. For commentary, see the Slashdot article pointing to it. He seemed to mostly argue for the need for standards, missing the point that people were generally not arguing against standards, but against closed standards a la LSA (dated 8/23/98).
- Mike is the maintainer of www.linux.org. The first debates over his character that I could find started when he began to run advertising on linux.org.
- The LWN take is objective and rational, as always. They mention LSA, it's problems, and recommend people simply go with LSB (the Red Hat/Debian project to standardize parts of Linux) (8/20/98).
- LinuxHQ's news for August 19, 1998 had an article titled 'Appeal for Calm,' asking everyone to calm down and stop flaming (8/19/98).
- Linux International sent Mike a nasty e-mail about misrepresenting the Linux trademark. The issue was that Linus Torvalds holds the trademark to `Linux.' Mike claimed that Linus didn't. update: After Linus called Mike up personally to talk some sense into him, the LSA succumbed, and is now referring to `Linux' as a trademarked term (8/21/98).
- A ZD Net article on this whole thing. Mostly opposed to the LSA.
- C-Net's news.com also ran an article that mostly reported the facts surrounding this issue.
- In lighter news, a spoof of the LSA was announced. The SLA web site, and the corresponding Slashdot article
- Innovative Logic - Mike's company, one of the two founding members of LSA, and the host of linux.org. Seems to do web site design, hosting, OS/2 and Windows development, etc.
- NC Laboratories - The other founding member - does stuff with Java, ActiveX, Windows NT, Network Computer, etc. They do a bit of Unix->NT porting as well.
- A Statement from the linux.org Caretaker on slashdot (from Mike) met with wide approval a few months ago. Only a few people complained about the advertising. Does anyone have a reference to the ZD Net article everyone was talking about?
A number of people have written editorials on the standards situation. Freshmeat had a series of editorials from some of the more prominent figures in the free software world. Slashdot issued a call for editorials, and published two of the responses. Rob Malda sent me copies of the others, and I have e-mailed the authors asking for permission to publish the rest. A word of warning: while many of the unpublished editorials were quite good, a few were quite poorly/crudely written.
- Alan Cox, the second best known Linux kernel developer, wrote an editorial in his usual witty style.
- Jim Pick, of Debian fame, also maintainer of a bleeding edge FTP site with Gnome and Gimp CVS snapshots, wrote ``The LSB is dead! Long live the LSB!,'' just a few days before the LSA was announced, when the LSB was going through some troubles. (8/15/98)
- Robert Young, president of Red Hat wrote ``The Linux Standard Base (LSB): A Cure Worse Than the Disease? or The success of the Linux OS is Open Source Licensing.'' (7/4/98)
- Linux Mall's CEO, Mark Bolzern, wrote an editorial on the need for standards. (5/21/98)
- Larry Augustin, director of Linux International and president of VA Research, published one on freshmeat on the problem of fragmentation. (5/22/98)
- Daniel Veillard, of the W3 Consortium, wrote a freshmeat piece on the need for standard package management. (5/29/98)
- Freshmeat published a paragraph from Eid Eid, president of Corel Computer (6/13/98)
- Red Cook, of Enhanced Software Technologies, published on freshmeat about the LSB (6/5/98)
- Ransom Love, manager of the OpenLinux division at Caldera, wrote into freshmeat in favor of the LSB (6/15/98)
- Erik Walthinsen, of Simple End-User Linux, told freshmeat how LSB benefits SEUL (6/19/98)
Published Slashdot editorials
- The whole LSA debate prompted slashdot to issue a Call for Essays on Linux Standards (8/20/98).
- The first essay was opposed to any more extensive Linux standards (8/21/98).
- The second
essay to appear was in favor of the LSA (8/21/98).
Unpublished Slashdot editorials
- Although not directly related to LSA, Craig Goodrich sent an excellent essay arguing that the need for standards has been greatly exaggerated, that he had submitted to slashdot but Rob chose not to publish.
- Evan Simpson argued in favor of standards.
- Jake Kaivo also argued in favor of standards, and specifically, in favor of LCS/LSB and Unix 98 certification.
- Christopher Craig wrote a piece outlining some of the [negative] facts about the LSA, and responding to some of Mike's comments.
- Matthew Economou argued against the LSA and the first incarnation of the LSB, but not necessarily against standards.
- Todd Gillespie agreed to let me publish A Violent Disagreement on Standards: A Hope for Functionality
Although I'm trying to present the information as objectively as possible, and let the reader draw his own conclusions, it's only fair that I tell you my own bias before you draw any conclusions. I'm opposed to the LSA, and I've lost a fair deal of respect for Mike McLagan for the way he handled this issue. I think it's fine for him to try to make a standard for the OS, even a completely proprietary standard, so long as he does not claim rights to the term ``Standard Linux.'' Claiming that his standard is the one and only is arrogant, improper and harmful to the community.
I think he should change the name from ``Standard Linux'' to something like ``LSA Standard Linux,'' move Linux On-line to a different domain, transfer Linux On-line to Linux International, and possibly send out a public apology to slashdot. If he did those three things, I would start to respect him and his contributions to the computing community quite a bit.
No major distributions are likely to adopt the LSA. Following the LSA issue, most of the GNU/Linux vendors have already jumped on the Linux Standard Base bandwagon, and LSB currently includes Red Hat, Debian, Caldera, S.u.S.E., TurboLinux, SPI, VA Research, Metro Link, Linux International and a few others. There should not be a major issue in terms of distribution support.
However, the LSA can, and is quite likely to, cause significant problems. There are still a number of issues that still need to be resolved:
- It's necessary to recover the ``Standard Linux'' trademark (this can be easily done in court, as there is plenty of clear common usage evidence, but could be rather time consuming and expensive).
- It is necessary to recover the linux.org domain name from Mike. This can be difficult, as there are no legal means to do this, so it would have to be done through political means. Mike has been approached about this by many people, but is unwilling to succeed it. He usually sites himself as a Linux kernel developer, and therefore superior to the person making the request. Only someone like Linus would be likely to convince him to turn it over, and Linus (rightfully) does not like to get involved in politics. Swapan Sarkar and Willy Konijnenberg have since written that there might legal means. I'm not sure if this would be viable, as it would (a) involve convincing Linus to sue Mike, (b) Mike might succeed in striking down the Linux trademark in court and (c) striking down a domain name is still very difficult.
- I don't think the LSA will go out without a fight, and they may hurt the free software community through that fight. Most suits and corporations do not read slashdot, LWN, or other GNU/Linux publications. Many may get a good sales pitch from Mike, jump on the LSA bandwagon, and get burned by the community. From e-mails, this is my impression (although I'm not completely sure) that this is what happened with NC-Labs.
These are delicate issues. I honestly don't know how to handle them. It's good to politely inform vendors joining or considering joining the LSA of the LSB, and of the inherent problems with the LSA (possibly pointing them to a page like this one). Be calm, rational, and give objective and reasonable reasons for why LSA is a Bad Idea. ``Standard Linux'' will most likely have to be fought out in court. Reclaiming linux.org for the community could only be done if we could find significant support from the key Linux kernel developers (Linus, Alan, etc.). Mike considers himself `famous,' and he does not seem to listen to people less `famous' than himself (although when I mentioned Mike to a friend who is one of the reasonably active GGI and kernel developers, my friend stated that he did not know much of/about Mike). However, `more famous' people may be able to convince him. There's a fair chance of finding support among Red Hat and Debian developers for this (although I'm not sure if that's enough; he certainly didn't consider Stampede developers important).
I'm not sure of the importance of standards for a free operating system. On one hand, standards can help push the operating system into corporate environments. On the other hand, they take away from diversity. I'm not sure how important corporate environments are to free software at this moderately early stage. Unlike commercial OSs, the success of a free operating system, is not tied to user base but to developer base. Most of the free software developers have been coding well before the user base reached millions, and will continue coding even if it started to shrink. I'm not sure if it's worthwhile sacrificing our diversity for short-term growth. I agree that we have probably been forced into developing good, free, open standards, to block proprietary ones from taking over.
As could be inferred, I view the LSA as a bad thing. I don't think a couple of minor players in the free software community would develop a competent standard for Linux. I don't think it's good that the group is closed. I think it's arrogant to grab the trademark on ``Standard Linux.''
Copyright © 1998. Piotr F. Mitros. This document may be freely modified and distributed, so long as this copyright is kept (additional names can be added, of course), and it is made clear that I am no longer the author of modified versions. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com. I reserve the right to publish anything sent to this address.