Practical Technology

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Cyber Cynic: SCO’s Hands in the Source Jar


I’ve known for about a week now-known, not assumed, not puzzled it out, known-that SCO had mixed Linux code into Unix. I know it because a source I trusted who was in a position to know had told me that had been the case.I haven’t written it up as news though because the person who’s told me this doesn’t want their name used and I haven’t been able to get anyone else who was at SCO in those days to confirm or deny the story.

For that matter, I can’t get anyone working at SCO today to confirm or deny that SCO did some code mixing of their own.

Those outside of SCO are reluctant because, quite frankly, they don’t want to be sued by SCO. Those inside either don’t want to lose their jobs, or at the top, they must not have a good explanation because they don’t have a good answer. And why should management want to answer it? SCO’s own public statements indicate that they were mixing Unix and Linux together. They can’t deny it but they can’t confirm it either without shooting their law suit in the foot.

Now, however, Peter Galli at eWeek has reported that “parts of the Linux kernel code were copied into the Unix System V source tree by former or current SCO employees.”

While no one yet has put their name behind these accusations, this news can’t come as any surprise to anyone who works on operating system compatibility issues.

SCO created the Linux Kernel Personality (LKP) to enable SCO OpenUnix, now back to its old name of UnixWare, users to run Linux binaries at the application binary interface (ABI) level. As SCO puts it, The LKP for UnixWare 7.1.3 and Open UNIX® 8 (UnixWare 7.1.2) provides a complete Linux system hosted on the UnixWare kernel.”

In laymen’s terms that means you could take a complied program for Linux, drop in on LKP-powered UnixWare and run it. No fuss, no muss, no recompiling from source code, you’d just run your Linux program on UnixWare.

Now, I’m not much of a coder, but if you want Linux binaries to run directly on Unix and not in a virtual machine mode-the way that VMware enables people to run Windows on Linux-you need to retrofit Linux code into Unix. Other programs, such as CodeWeavers CrossOverOffice and its open source ancestor Wine, work by emulating Windows’ application programming interface (API). Both are difficult tricks to pull off, but neither requires any Linux code to be placed in the Unix kernel. For LKP to do its job though you must merge some Unix and Linux code at the kernel level and that’s exactly what I’m told SCO did.

Specifically, at a minimum SCO programmers have to take merge Linux code with the Unix kernel to deal with kernel threads, networking, and inter-process communication (IPC). In addition, vital system calls like clone, ipc, and socketcall, had to be cut, slightly modified and pasted for LKP to work. And, yes, LKP does work.

What all that means is that SCO’s intellectual property case against IBM and threats against Linux vendors has an LKP sized hole in it. I can’t make anyone talk to me; I can’t make anyone let me use their name. IBM’s attorneys can though and I’m sure they will if the case comes to court.

I still doubt that it will. SCO’s best chance, as it always has been, is to get bought out. I think they know they can’t win in court. But the longer they can drag matters out-and they can probably afford to do so for a long time with their contingency payment plan with their law firm and the money they got from Microsoft for IP rights-the more likely it is that they can get bought out by IBM or another company.

Technically speaking, I know that SCO is in the wrong, but from a purely pragmatic business viewpoint, the longer SCO can drag this out, the more Linux, and the companies that support it, will be hurt in the marketplace. And, of course, SCO’s management is gambling that this will pay off in big bucks for SCO’s current administration and owners. Of course, SCO’s current customers and Linux users everywhere are getting the short end of the stick, but SCO clearly doesn’t care about them. SCO’s in the law suit business now, not the IT business.

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