February 1, 2001

LinuxWorld: Wasabi and the NetBSD Foundation

Author: JT Smith

- by Tina Gasperson -
Wasabi Systems Inc. is a new commercial undertaking that sprung from the NetBSD
core group of developers. Following the now-traditional Open Source business
model, the company hopes to turn a profit by offering support and customization
options for clients. But because Wasabi and the NetBSD Foundation are sharing a
booth at Linux World, does that mean the commercial entity is getting a little
too cozy with the .org group for the Open Source community's comfort?NetBSD, one of just four flavors of the BSD operating system, runs on 32 platforms, including Atari, Amiga, and Mac68k.
As the operating system has evolved, installing it gets easier and easier,
according to Luke Mewburn, a senior developer for Wasabi Systems. And the newest
version of NetBSD, 1.5, is highly compatible with Linux and will run most
applications created for Linux.

The release also features hot-pluggable
keyboards and mice, detachable PCMCIA support, USB, and wireless networking.
That, coupled with code portability and what some say are more attractive
licensing terms (BSD's Berkeley vs. the GNU General Public License), make NetBSD more
and more attractive to businesses -- at least that's what Wasabi Systems is

Some of the core group from NetBSD decided to start Wasabi Systems back in
mid-2000. The
company's business model focuses on support and custom development. "We exist to
provide support for commercial users of NetBSD to make it a very safe choice --
in other words, there's a company here that will stand behind you." says
Jay Michaelson, vice president and COO of Wasabi.

He adds that the biggest benefit of NetBSD's Berkeley-style license is the freedom it
gives to Wasabi and its clients to develop custom code and keep it proprietary. With
Linux and other code that is released under the GNU General Public License,
companies are not allowed to make changes to Open Source code without also
releasing that code under the GPL, a restriction that some say effectively keeps
enterprises from developing applications using GPL'ed code.

Wasabi doesn't in any sense replace the NetBSD project, says Michaelson. "Wasabi is
just a company. To an extent, we overlap because a lot of the people who are NetBSD
developers are also Wasabi developers." In fact, three of the five men who are
part of the core group of NetBSD developers are involved with Wasabi.

They maintain, however, that the two are entirely separate. "It is important for us to keep [them]
somewhat distinct," says Michaelson, "because we don't want our commercial interests to get in the
way of the Open Source community's actual involvement in development of the
software product. That would be a really lousy business decision on our

Wasabi has different interests than the NetBSD project. "There are certain
development paths the Wasabi people are working on that maybe aren't the most
interesting from a software development point of view, and the NetBSD project
might never get around to doing it. But they are an important business interest
to us."

Wasabi also sells a CDROM distribution of NetBSD under its own label. "This CD is
exactly the same NetBSD that you can download from the Internet," says Michaelson.
"It's a matter of convenience for users, and for us it's a marketing tool as
well because it gets our brand out there. We'll also eventually offer update
subscriptions so you'll always have the newest version without having to worry
about it."

In fact, Wasabi's Mewburn is looking to run for office in the NetBSD
foundation. "When I started with Wasabi," says Mewburn, "I made it quite clear
that I was quite concerned about conflict of interest [to the NetBSD
Foundation], and pretty much the overwhelming response I got back was 'well, we
don't have a problem with it primarily because you've come out and said that if
there was a problem you'd be willing to step down.'"

As much as Mewburn would like to become an officer for the foundation, he makes
it clear that he understands the community may have reservations. "If I don't
make it, I won't fuss," he says.

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