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Cyber Cynic: Bye-Bye SCO

March 31st, 2003 · 1 Comment

What is SCO thinking?

Suing IBM for a cool billion pits them against one of their oldest allies and puts many of their resellers in the uncomfortable spot of having their OS vendor being at war with their hardware vendor.If you know me at all, you know I’ve been covering SCO and Caldera for over a decade and that, generally speaking, I’ve liked what they were doing first as a network administrator, systems analyst and developer and later as a technology journalist.But the Caldera/SCO I knew is, I’m convinced, as dead as a doornail.

This move has alienated all their Linux users and the rest of the Linux community. It’s also, according to the resellers I’ve spoken too, made their lives a lot harder. I mean how can you get someone to upgrade to SCO UnitedLinux when chances are they know that SCO has taken legal action that threatens the Linux community? You’d have to be a better salesman than The Music Man’s Professor Hill!

SCO’s broad claims about its Unix’s IP have made even OpenServer and UnixWare customers nervous. They know their SCO OSs safe, but many of the bigger ones have AIX5L, directly targeted by SCO, Solaris, or HP-UX installations working in the back room. They worry that eventually they’ll be the ones paying higher, much higher, license fees to their vendors thanks to SCO’s legal actions.

Do they think they can win? I doubt it. Boies, Schiller and Flexner is a top law firm, but I’ve been watching Unix intellectual property fights since Unix Systems Laboratories (USL, whose intellectural property is now owned by SCO) took on Berkeley Software Design, Incorporated (BSDI, now owned by Wind River) in 1992 and, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, no one, except Microsoft and other non-Unix OS vendors, wins these battles.

The actual result of that case, by the by, was that BSDI beat the initial USL injunctions and that after Novell bought USL, Novell CEO Ray Noorda famously declared that he’d rather compete in the marketplace than in court. SCO, although primarily owned by The Canopy Group, which is titulary headed by the ailing Noorda, has choosen to compete in the courts..

Now, I’m not an attorney, but I do know my SCO and Unix’s intellectual property history. So, yes, I do think SCO has some valid complains about IBM not pushing their joint project, AIX 5L on Itanium, as hard as they could. But, IBM did that though for the best of business reasons: Itanium was, and is to this day, a marketplace failure. I know IBM thought, and I agreed then and now that there wasn’t enough of a market for AIX 5L on Itanium to make it worth the time to produce it. Still, such is the stuff that business lawsuits are made of. Usually, however, the law suit comes when the conflict still has some life to it and AIX5L on Itanium has been moldering in the grave for over three years now.

And, in any case, that avenue is not the one SCO is pushing. Instead, their main thrust as SCO says in its complaint is that IBM misappropriated the confidential and proprietary information from SCO in Project Monterey” for Linux’s advancement.

I can’t take SCO’s greater claim that Linux has somehow benefited from IBM leaking System V Unix secrets via AIX into Linux, I can only ask what has SCO been smoking? IBM has always taken a hands-off approach to Linux. They’ve never wanted to develop it, they expected their Linux partners, Red Hat, SuSE, Turbolinux and, oh yes, Caldera/SCO to develop Linux. Simply contributing things such as printer drivers and a journaling file system, which may or may not have any connection with Monterey or AIX 5L to open source, as SCO claims, has nothing to do with

If indeed SCO Unix intellectual property has slipped into Linux, which I strongly doubt, then the most likely source is SCO itself. Indeed, when Caldera announced that they were buying SCO, in their press kit they included the following quote from one of my Smart Partner articles: “By making sure it doesn’t buy into the Unix business’ bad old tricks and staying a Linux company at heart, Caldera can earn a true victor’s crown. UNIX’s branding and technology, the SCO’s reseller channel–they all count for a lot. But, using the open approach to create a much broader market for all UNIX-like operating systems will be Caldera’s best move.”

In what is perhaps the most surprising thing of all about SCO’s suit, Caldera/SCO, itself, was until this suit one of the most important Linux distributors and developers makes it clear that Linux is now the enemy.What is this? In fact, Daryl McBride, SCO’s president and CEO, told me in a recent interview that SCO is “about business, not Unix. Linux and Unix aren’t different animals, they’re in the same pen, and they can run common applications.”

What’s really going on here? Well, I think SCO is moving out of the operating system business into the law suit business. In talking with the other Linux and major Unix players, no one, but no one wants to partner with SCO anymore. Their reseller partners aren’t happy either.

So, like a murder mystery, the question is who stands to gain something? A look at the stock market will show who benefits, at least in the short run: SCO’s long suffering stock holders. The day after the law suit was announced, SCO reached a 52-week high of $3.66. It’s dropped since then, but at its current (March 31th) range on the close order of $2.71, its still doing better than it has in ages.

I’ve also said though that I think it unlikely SCO will win the law suit, or any related ones they might launch in the future. And, I suspect they know it. So, what I see happening is that SCO’s ownership and new management has decided to try to make money by making the company an attractive take-over target.

Think about it, IBM could buy SCO, even at its current pricing, for what amounts to lunch money for Big Blue. Or, say Microsoft decides to buy it to entangle Linux and Unix companies in a tangled web of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) that could last for years.

The net result? In the first case, Unix, Linux, and their companies are likely to continue on their way and SCO’s owners and new officers walk away with a pocket full of money. In the second, they still walk away, if not rich, certainly better off then they are now, and everyone, but everyone, in the Unix/Linux business is in for the worse time in their lives.

We can also hope that, one way or another, the law suit is settled quickly. IBM can afford a long law suit, Linux companies can’t afford to have customers always asking what will happen to their operating system contracts were SCO to actually win the law suit.

In any case, the SCO we’ve known, loved and hated, partnered and worked with, is gone. The name may be the same, but that’s all that is. SCO resellers can hope and pray that someone buys out OpenServer, UnixWare, SCO Linux Server and the reseller channel who’s willing to work with them, instead of simply junking them to get SCO out of the market.

Tags: Business · Legal · Linux · SCO · Unix

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