Article

Face-off: SCO vs. IBM

Jan Stafford

SCO vs IBM: One of the most heated legal battles in IT history deserves a good argument. Here, our editors go after the combatants and neither of them hold anything back.

SCO has no business but show business

By Jan Stafford, Site Editor

"There's no business like SCO's business, like no business I know." This Irving Berlin-like lyric describes SCO's anti-IBM legal grandstanding to a T. SCO has no business today but show business -- and its act is more of a farce than a courtroom drama.

After doing well with its Unix-on-Intel software, SCO took a nap while Linux-on-Intel came on strong. SCO meets Caldera, a Linux company being upstaged by guys in red hats. Does the dynamic duo conjure up an Intel OS that rocks the IT world? No! Innovation's out at SCO. Show business is in.

So SCO loudly accuses IBM of stealing parts of its Unix code. Which pieces of code? At first, SCO won't say. Then, it produces a few tidbits and produces many more open letters and press releases. SCO CEO Darl McBride's public statements become weirder and weirder. My favorite: Open source software is a threat to national security.

For each SCO claim, Linuxphiles have had quick and reasonable comebacks. Here are some examples:

  • SCO's claims to Unix ownership are shaky at best. Several vendors claim to own the Unix code and copyrights, and the San Francisco-based

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  • nonprofit Open Group says it holds the Unix trademark and specification rights.
  • Linux and Unix developers deny having used proprietary code in the Linux kernel or in related applications. After looking at the small bit of contested code released by SCO, Linus Torvalds says that he wrote much of it from scratch. Linux maintainer Tigran Aivazian contributed code to the Linux kernel while employed by SCO, but he says that his supervisor at SCO approved those contributions.
  • SCO-Caldera distributed Linux under the free software license, so it granted customers the rights needed to use Linux, says Eben Moglen, the Free Software Foundation's attorney. SCO is obligated to abide by those license terms for the release of code, including the code in the contested Linux 2.4, he says.
  • Also, Moglen says that Caldera and SCO participated directly in Linux kernel development, including in areas addressed by the company's complaint against IBM. Actually, Linux advocates now say that SCO-Caldera put Linux source code in UnixWare.

Everything isn't coming up roses for SCO. IBM hasn't settled, nor has it acquired SCO. Other vendors keep investing in Linux and vow to protect their customers from SCO. Businesses keep deploying Linux and refusing to pay SCO anything.

Despite growing evidence that its ploys will fail in court, SCO won't do the right thing: show all of the code. Torvalds and Linux maintainers have promised to right any wrongs found; they'll create alternative code strings for any Linux kernel and open source applications that contain infringing code. Then SCO's intellectual property is its own, and the Linux and open source world can move on.

Trouble is, SCO doesn't want Linux to move on. Linux rained on SCO's parade, so SCO wants to stop the parade.

So SCO will keep its show running as long as possible, not just for revenge but because the show is making more money than SCO ever did on its products. After all, SCO turned its first profitable year in 2003. In 2003 and today, people are investing heavily in SCO and its stock, gambling on a big payoff if SCO wins. Also, Sun and Microsoft are paying SCO millions for licenses to protect their customers from being billed by SCO.

I predict that SCO will keep the box office open, hoping its anti-IBM suit will have a long run. And why not? Show business is SCO's most profitable business now.

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What is IBM hiding?

By Brent Sheets, Site Editor

OK, I'll play devil's advocate, although it's likely I'm the sole person on this planet defending SCO at this point. Case in point: Listen carefully and you'll hear a chorus of rejoicing erupt from the Linux faithful each time a denial-of-service attack hammers the SCO Web site. Most don't appear distressed in the least about the illegality of these recurring attacks. On the contrary, a large number on the message boards sound downright jubilant. But it really makes no difference if members of the open source community howl like monkeys set on fire. Facts are facts.

No matter what you think of SCO president and CEO Darl McBride or his tactics, this isn't a personal attack against the open source movement. So then, it's all about the money, right? Of course it is, but it's also about the plain workings of our capitalist system and copyright laws. The question is: Does SCO possess intellectual property rights to source code used by the Linux operating system? If it does, then a license is the company's due, whether anyone likes it or not.

Listen, SCO unquestionably knows its way around the courts, and the company wouldn't risk alienating itself if it didn't think it had an excellent chance of pulling this off. According to a June 2003 Forbes article, SCO Group, the artist formerly known as Caldera, used a similar tactic on Microsoft back in 1996, leveraging the rights to an old version of DOS that SCO had bought. Caldera was rewarded with a Microsoft settlement. Hello? Are you listening? Microsoft? Settlement? Microsoft has a legal war chest the size of some countries' GDPs, and Bill Gates would sue his own mother if he thought it would put a dollar in his pocket. But Caldera had Microsoft, and all Microsoft could do was ante up accordingly.

Part of the 1985 Unix System V licensing agreement between IBM and AT&T stated that IBM would be free to modify the Unix product, as long as any derivative work was treated as part of the original product. IBM's modifications became AIX and also Dynix, developed by Sequent Computer Co., which has since merged with IBM. IBM is under the same licensing provisions for AIX and Dynix, with very clear restrictions set on its use of this derivative code, which allegedly found its way into Linux.

IBM would like us all to believe that SCO's claims are nothing more than a money-grubbing ploy to destroy the brave new world of open source. The funny thing is, Big Blue has thousands of patents to its credit, and the last time I looked, IBM wasn't bending over backward to release this treasure trove into the public domain. Now, to further clog up the courts, IBM counterclaims are spreading faster than Mydoom-A. Might it be that IBM realizes a close inspection would reveal the company indeed donated derivative code to Linux?

It's time to get this silliness over with. One thing's for sure; the strength of the General Public License is going to be tested to its very limits.


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