Git Gets Down to Business


The birth of the splendidly-named Git distributed version control software is one of the most remarkable in the history of open source – a field not exactly short of such stories. It replaced a previous system, BitKeeper, from Larry McVoy, that was used by the Linux kernel developers. It did the job well, but it had a slight problem – for some, at least:

Although McVoy would make it freely available to the Linux team, BitKeeper would not be open source, since he was aiming to sell licences to software houses. Torvalds was pragmatic, and agreed that if BitKeeper was the best solution to his problem, then he would use it.

By 2002, Torvalds made BitKeeper an integral part of how he managed Linux development, with great success. The free software purists who align themselves with the uncompromising Richard Stallman, however, put ethics before efficiency and were unhappy with this turn of events. But with Torvalds' insistence, there was nothing they could do about it.

A trivial incident in 1995 brought matters to a head:

Since the 1990s, Andrew Tridgell has led the development of Samba, a key open source project that allows computers running GNU/Linux to communicate with Windows machines, using Microsoft's networking standards. He achieved this by looking at the messages sent across the network by Windows machines, and then writing code that could respond appropriately. In the spirit of intellectual curiosity, he did the same with the BitKeeper system.

This proved too much for McVoy, who saw it as undermining his commercial product. He withdrew the free licence he had offered for BitKeeper, and the recriminations began. Torvalds was in a quandary: he could hardly ask every Linux developer to pay for BitKeeper, but he had also grown to appreciate the virtues of a powerful tool to manage software development.

Then something rather remarkable happened.

[Linus] did the only thing a red-blooded hacker could do: he sat down and wrote his own. Torvalds' "Git" - which, he says, is named after himself, like Linux - was initially nothing more than a rough fill-in for BitKeeper. But something amazing happened: the other kernel hackers immediately started sending in patches to improve Git - just as they had with the fledgling Linux nearly 15 years ago - and in less than a month, Git was close to matching the core capabilities of BitKeeper that Torvalds needed.

Now, it seems, things are moving on yet further:

Public repositories like the ones at and Gitorious have been around since the earliest releases of Git, but they come with their own limitations that projects may or may not want. You must make your code public from the beginning. You have limited types of access on many of these services and your project may have a strictly limited amount of storage for your code.

Recognizing the need for more flexible options, github was created. The service provides fully supported options for all sorts of projects both open and closed source. They offer pricing levels that fit the needs of both open source projects and larger companies. The company has provided a very slick web front-end to the system with extras like a Wiki and integrations with the ever-popular Twitter and Basecamp services. They have also recently open sourced much of the code that they use for these integrations so that other projects and companies might expand on their work.

That is, not content with helping to create an entire GNU/Linux industry, Torvalds has now spawned another business sector with Git. Truly, this man is working towards world domination.

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