Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce BusyBox replacement project fuels animated verbal spat

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It's been some time since there was a good old-fashioned verbal spat in the free and open source software community.

Such a state does not last for long, as there are loads of little points to nitpick over, especially when it comes to licensing, and there are lots of developers who love to argue about these differences.

And when Red Hat employee Matthew Garrett, a Linux kernel developer, gets involved, one is sure that the flames will be stoked. Garrett knows how to provoke people, even if his provocatory acts spring from the desire to do good.

One difference about this spat is that it has stayed civil in terms of language so far, though, judging from the contributions of many, emotions are riding high. It hasn't come to the stage where it can be classified as a flame war.

A couple of days ago, Garrett, who maintains a busy blog, ventilated his thoughts about enforcing the General Public Licence (GPL), mentioning the Software Freedom Conservancy and its actions on BusyBox as an example of a body that enforces this licence.

He pointed out that the actions of such organisations resulted in access to large bodies of source code that would otherwise have been kept under lock and key by the companies which indulged in the violations.

A few facts about BusyBox: it was originally started by well-known open source advocate Bruce Perens and combines tiny versions of many common UNIX utilities into a single small executable. The Debian archive says: "It provides minimalist replacements for the most common utilities you would usually find on your desktop system (i.e., ls, cp, mv,  mount, tar, etc.). The utilities in BusyBox generally have fewer options than their full-featured GNU cousins; however, the options that are included provide the expected functionality and behave very much like their GNU counterparts."

From the project's own website: "BusyBox has been written with size-optimization (sic) and limited resources in mind. It is also extremely modular so you can easily include or exclude commands (or features) at compile time. This makes it easy to customize (sic) your embedded systems. To create a working system, just add some device nodes in /dev, a few configuration files in /etc, and a Linux kernel."

Perens wanted to put a complete bootable system on a single floppy that would be both a rescue disk and an installer for the Debian distribution; that was his motivation for writing BusyBox. He is no longer part of the project which is now maintained by Denys Vlasenko.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.