I just about fell over when I read the following comments from Larry McVoy, creator of BitKeeper, in a Forbes article discussing an issue with Linux kernel development.

Indeed, McVoy says some Linux coders have been hassling him for years, because he would not publish the source code for BitKeeper.

“Here we were, working 90 hours a week to build something to help Linux, working long hours, giving up a lot of money and time, and all the time we were doing that, at every step of the way, we had people abusing us, sending us nasty e-mail, telling us we’re jerks. It’s been constant. It gets tiresome. After five years of that you just say: It doesn’t make business sense and it isn’t that fun.”

The flames have grown even hotter since McVoy decided to stop letting open source programmers use BitKeeper for free.

“My response is, ‘Let me know when your rent and college tuition are free, when gas and groceries are free, and when your girlfriend decides that you having no money is a great idea. When all that is true I’ll get on the bandwagon, too.’ Some people don’t understand that it costs salaries to develop stuff and support stuff.”

I hear ya’ Larry, baby needs a new pair a shoes.  It’s this clarity that can help bring closure to the NHL strike.

So what is the fair market value of a source code tracking system for the core Linux kernel? Obviously Torvalds thinks the $2K per user that McVoy charges IBM and HP is too much.  Certainly BK has shown value as the pace of Linux kernel development has doubled over three years.  Isn’t that worth $500K?

Clearly the Free Software Foundation would counter with their “Think of free speech, not free beer” slogan to sway the views of commercial vendors and people who “value technical advantage above freedom and community.”

In the end, this issue could be another historical footnote in the commercialization of open source software. Time will tell.