Practical Technology

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SCO Can’t Win


I think The SCO Group deserves every penny they’re asking for… if they were right, but theyre not. Ive been following SCO as a writer since the late 80s, and Ive been using its products for even longer. When Caldera came out with one of the first commercial Linux distributions, I was there too. In short, I know this company and its IP claims simply don’t hold up.

If SCO had just gone after IBM on contract terms, because of how IBM handled the attempt to bring AIX 5L to Intel (Project Monterey) that would be a different story. From what I know of that deal, I think SCO was treated shabbily.

SCOs owners, the Canopy Group, should have, in my humble opinion, kept Ransom Love as CEO and continued to support Linux. Had they done so then SCO, with its close Novell ties, would have been acquired by Novell-not SuSE. $200+ million down the drain for Canopy.

As it is, the ownership decided they wanted to shift gears from being an operating system company to one that tries to make money from lawsuits. Now, personally, I don’t like this. Id rather make things than haul people to court. But those businesses can work. In fact, there are companies that do nothing but acquire patents, wait until someone has created something that may infringe on those patents and then swoop in like vultures.

In SCOs case, however, the company is trying to create a house of cards. If any one of those cards shifts, the entire litigious structure falls.

Darl McBride, SCOs CEO, talks about SCO being defending the rights of intellectual property like the RIAA. Its not. SCOs IP claims are much weaker. We know a song belongs to an artist and a label. SCOs copyright claims are much murkier.

First, SCO has to establish that it actually owns the copyright to Unix System V code. Novell says it doesnt. The agreements transferring the IP rights, to my non-lawyer eyes, dont clearly give SCO all the rights they need to make its sweeping copyright claims.

OK, lets suppose that the courts agree that SCO, not Novell, owns the IP and all the rights to control how its used. Next, SCO has to prove that IBM, or other companies, took code from Unix and placed it in Linux. I don’t see how they can do that. SCO has never presented a shred of significant evidence that there is any Unix code in Linux. Besides, we do know for a fact that SCO was trying to get Linux and Unix to work together. If any code duplication is found, SCO could have been the one doing the copying.

SCO was working on this even before Caldera bought out SCOs Unix division and intellectual property. Specifically, SCO added Linux compatibility to its Unix properties with operating system packages like UnixWares Linux Kernel Personality (LKP). The LKP enables UnixWare, one of SCOs Unix operating systems, to run Linux binaries.

So SCO was adding Linux functionality, Linux code, into its own Unix products, and was also considering bringing Linux functionality to its older OpenServer Unix. Given SCOs own reasoning, could all this Linux functionality be added to Unix without introducing Linux code into Unix? I think not.

Look at the history. When Caldera first bought SCO in August 2000, the company suggested that it was going to open source a good deal of Unix. That never happened. Because as Love explained, “We quickly found that even though we owned it, it was, and still is, full of other companies copyrights.”

But what Caldera did do, as described in a Caldera white paper dated March 8, 2001, “Linux and UNIX are coming Together” by Dean R. Zimmerman of SCO, was to try and merge the best features of both operating systems. In the first pages of the white paper, theres a line that fits perfectly with open-source gospel: “For a programmer, access to source code is the greatest gift that can be bestowed.”

And then, deeper into the white paper, “Caldera has begun the task of uniting the strengths of UNIX technology, which include stability, scalability, security and performance with the strengths of Linux, which include Internet-readiness, networking, new application support and new hardware support. Calderas solution is to unite in the UNIX kernel a Linux Kernel Personality (LKP), and then provide the additional APIs needed for high-end scalability. The result is an application deploy on platform with the performance, scalability and confidence of UNIX and the industry momentum of Linux.”

So here we are, SCO/Caldera software developers were not only working on their own Linux— and with SuSE on what would become UnitedLinux— but were adding Linux kernel functionality to Unix too.

Oh, and lest we forget, if there is Unix system code in Linux, it doesnt matter anyway. For you see, SCO has another major legal problem. It was given the code that SCO claims was stolen via the GPL. That basically means that SCO itself has already open-sourced any Unix code that might be in Linux.

If SCO actually owned the IP in question, had any proof that it was stolen, and sourced the code from somewhere other than the GPL, maybe SCO should win. But, at best, I dont how SCO can prove any of the above, except possibly that SCO, and not Novell, owns the copyrights.

Enough! This is just silly. SCO cant win and it shouldn’t win. In the short run, SCO can get some cash from foolish companies like Computer Associates and EV1Servers that are willing to waste their money. And, so long as they can keep the anti-Linux FUD coming, Microsoft will keep supporting them. In the long run though, SCO will rightly lose.

A version of this story was first published in eWEEK.

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