NEW YORK - Theo de Raadt is a pioneer of the open source software movement and a huge proponent of free software. But he is no fan of the open source Linux operating system.
"It's terrible," De Raadt says. "Everyone is using it, and they don't realize how bad it is. And the Linux people will just stick with it and add to it rather than stepping back and saying, 'This is garbage and we should fix it.'"
De Raadt makes a rival open source operating system called OpenBSD. Unlike Linux, which is a clone of Unix, OpenBSD is based on an actual Unix variant called Berkeley Software Distribution. BSD powers two of the best operating systems in the world--Solaris from Sun Microsystems (nasdaq: SUNW - news - people ) and OS X from Apple Computer (nasdaq: AAPL - news - people ).
There are three open source flavors of BSD--FreeBSD, NetBSD and OpenBSD, the one De Raadt develops, which is best-known for its security features. In a sort of hacker equivalent of the Ford-versus-Chevy rivalry, BSD guys make fun of Linux on message boards and Web sites, the gist being that BSD guys are a lot like Linux guys, except they have kissed girls.
Sour grapes? Maybe. Linux is immensely more popular than all of the open source BSD versions.
De Raadt says that's partly because Linux gets support from big hardware makers like Hewlett-Packard (nasdaq: HPQ - news - people ) and IBM (nyse: IBM - news - people ), which he says have turned Linux hackers into an unpaid workforce.
"These companies used to have to pay to develop Unix. They had in-house engineers who wrote new features when customers wanted them. Now they just allow the user community to do their own little hacks and features, trying to get to the same functionality level, and they're just putting pennies into it," De Raadt says.
De Raadt says his crack 60-person team of programmers, working in a tightly focused fashion and starting with a core of tried-and-true Unix, puts out better code than the slapdash Linux movement.
"I think our code quality is higher, just because that's really a big focus for us," De Raadt says. "Linux has never been about quality. There are so many parts of the system that are just these cheap little hacks, and it happens to run." As for Linus Torvalds, who created Linux and oversees development, De Raadt says, "I don't know what his focus is at all anymore, but it isn't quality."
Torvalds, via e-mail, says De Raadt is "difficult" and declined to comment further.
De Raadt blames Linux's development structure, in which thousands of coders feed bits of code to "maintainers," who in turn pass pieces to Torvalds and a handful of top lieutenants.
The involvement of big companies also creates problems, De Raadt says, since companies push their own agendas and end up squabbling--as happened recently when a Red Hat (nasdaq: RHAT - news - people ) coder published an essay criticizing IBM's Linux programmers.
There's also a difference in motivation. "Linux people do what they do because they hate Microsoft. We do what we do because we love Unix," De Raadt says. The irony, however, is that while noisy Linux fanatics make a great deal out of their hatred for Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ), De Raadt says their beloved program is starting to look a lot like what Microsoft puts out. "They have the same rapid development cycle, which leads to crap," he says.
De Raadt says BSD could have become the world's most popular open source operating system, except that a lawsuit over BSD scared away developers, who went off to work on Linux and stayed there even after BSD was deemed legal. "It's really very sad," he says. "It is taking a long time for the Linux code base to get where BSD was ten years ago."
Lok Technologies, a San Jose, Calif.-based maker of networking gear, started out using Linux in its equipment but switched to OpenBSD four years ago after company founder Simon Lok, who holds a doctorate in computer science, took a close look at the Linux source code.
"You know what I found? Right in the kernel, in the heart of the operating system, I found a developer's comment that said, 'Does this belong here?' "Lok says. "What kind of confidence does that inspire? Right then I knew it was time to switch."