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Much of Linux's popularity is due to factors external to the Linux projects, such as the press, and to companies formed to provide Linux services. Until recently, the open source BSDs had no such proponents.
In 1992, AT&amp;T sued <link xlink:href="http://www.bsdi.com/">BSDI</link>, the vendor of BSD/386, alleging that the product contained AT&amp;T-copyrighted code. The case was settled out of court in 1994, but the spectre of the litigation continues to haunt people. In March 2000 an article published on the web claimed that the court case had been <quote>recently settled</quote>.
One detail that the lawsuit did clarify is the naming: in the 1980s, BSD was known as <quote>BSD <trademark class="registered">UNIX</trademark></quote>. With the elimination of the last vestige of AT&amp;T code from BSD, it also lost the right to the name <trademark class="registered">UNIX</trademark>. Thus you will see references in book titles to <quote>the 4.3BSD <trademark class="registered">UNIX</trademark> operating system</quote> and <quote>the 4.4BSD operating system</quote>.
Comparing BSD and Linux
So what is really the difference between, say, Debian Linux and FreeBSD? For the average user, the difference is surprisingly small: Both are <trademark class="registered">UNIX</trademark> like operating systems. Both are developed by non-commercial projects (this does not apply to many other Linux distributions, of course). In the following section, we will look at BSD and compare it to Linux. The description applies most closely to FreeBSD, which accounts for an estimated 80% of the BSD installations, but the differences from NetBSD, OpenBSD and DragonFlyBSD are small.
Who owns BSD?
No one person or corporation owns BSD. It is created and distributed by a community of highly technical and committed contributors all over the world. Some of the components of BSD are Open Source projects in their own right and managed by different project maintainers.
How is BSD developed and updated?
The BSD kernels are developed and updated following the Open Source development model. Each project maintains a publicly accessible <emphasis>source tree</emphasis> which contains all source files for the project, including documentation and other incidental files. Users can obtain a complete copy of any version.
A large number of developers worldwide contribute to improvements to BSD. They are divided into three kinds:
<firstterm>Contributors</firstterm> write code or documentation. They are not permitted to commit (add code) directly to the source tree. In order for their code to be included in the system, it must be reviewed and checked in by a registered developer, known as a <emphasis>committer</emphasis>.
<firstterm>Committers</firstterm> are developers with write access to the source tree. In order to become a committer, an individual must show ability in the area in which they are active.
It is at the individual committer's discretion whether they should obtain authority before committing changes to the source tree. In general, an experienced committer may make changes which are obviously correct without obtaining consensus. For example, a documentation project committer may correct typographical or grammatical errors without review. On the other hand, developers making far-reaching or complicated changes are expected to submit their changes for review before committing them. In extreme cases, a core team member with a function such as Principal Architect may order that changes be removed from the tree, a process known as <firstterm>backing out</firstterm>. All committers receive mail describing each individual commit, so it is not possible to commit secretly.
The <firstterm>Core team</firstterm>. FreeBSD and NetBSD each have a core team which manages the project. The core teams developed in the course of the projects, and their role is not always well-defined. It is not necessary to be a developer in order to be a core team member, though it is normal. The rules for the core team vary from one project to the other, but in general they have more say in the direction of the project than non-core team members have.
This arrangement differs from Linux in a number of ways:
No one person controls the content of the system. In practice, this difference is overrated, since the Principal Architect can require that code be backed out, and even in the Linux project several people are permitted to make changes.
On the other hand, there <emphasis>is</emphasis> a central repository, a single place where you can find the entire operating system sources, including all older versions.
BSD projects maintain the entire <quote>Operating System</quote>, not only the kernel. This distinction is only marginally useful: neither BSD nor Linux is useful without applications. The applications used under BSD are frequently the same as the applications used under Linux.
As a result of the formalized maintenance of a single SVN source tree, BSD development is clear, and it is possible to access any version of the system by release number or by date. SVN also allows incremental updates to the system: for example, the FreeBSD repository is updated about 100 times a day. Most of these changes are small.
BSD releases
FreeBSD, NetBSD and OpenBSD provide the system in three different <quote>releases</quote>. As with Linux, releases are assigned a number such as 1.4.1 or 3.5. In addition, the version number has a suffix indicating its purpose:
The development version of the system is called <firstterm>CURRENT</firstterm>. FreeBSD assigns a number to CURRENT, for example FreeBSD 5.0-CURRENT. NetBSD uses a slightly different naming scheme and appends a single-letter suffix which indicates changes in the internal interfaces, for example NetBSD 1.4.3G. OpenBSD does not assign a number (<quote>OpenBSD-current</quote>). All new development on the system goes into this branch.
At regular intervals, between two and four times a year, the projects bring out a <firstterm>RELEASE</firstterm> version of the system, which is available on CD-ROM and for free download from FTP sites, for example OpenBSD 2.6-RELEASE or NetBSD 1.4-RELEASE. The RELEASE version is intended for end users and is the normal version of the system. NetBSD also provides <emphasis>patch releases</emphasis> with a third digit, for example NetBSD 1.4.2.
As bugs are found in a RELEASE version, they are fixed, and the fixes are added to the SVN tree. In FreeBSD, the resultant version is called the <firstterm>STABLE</firstterm> version, while in NetBSD and OpenBSD it continues to be called the RELEASE version. Smaller new features can also be added to this branch after a period of test in the CURRENT branch. Security and other important bug fixes are also applied to all supported RELEASE versions.
<emphasis>By contrast, Linux maintains two separate code trees: the stable version and the development version. Stable versions have an even minor version number, such as 2.0, 2.2 or 2.4. Development versions have an odd minor version number, such as 2.1, 2.3 or 2.5. In each case, the number is followed by a further number designating the exact release. In addition, each vendor adds their own userland programs and utilities, so the name of the distribution is also important. Each distribution vendor also assigns version numbers to the distribution, so a complete description might be something like <quote>TurboLinux 6.0 with kernel 2.2.14</quote></emphasis>
What versions of BSD are available?
In contrast to the numerous Linux distributions, there are only four major open source BSDs. Each BSD project maintains its own source tree and its own kernel. In practice, though, there appear to be fewer divergences between the userland code of the projects than there is in Linux.
It is difficult to categorize the goals of each project: the differences are very subjective. Basically,
FreeBSD aims for high performance and ease of use by end users, and is a favourite of web content providers. It runs on a <link xlink:href="@@URL_RELPREFIX@@/platforms/">number of platforms</link> and has significantly more users than the other projects.
NetBSD aims for maximum portability: <quote>of course it runs NetBSD</quote>. It runs on machines from palmtops to large servers, and has even been used on NASA space missions. It is a particularly good choice for running on old non-<trademark class="registered">Intel</trademark> hardware.
OpenBSD aims for security and code purity: it uses a combination of the open source concept and rigorous code reviews to create a system which is demonstrably correct, making it the choice of security-conscious organizations such as banks, stock exchanges and US Government departments. Like NetBSD, it runs on a number of platforms.

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articles/explaining-bsd.pot, string 54