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Shooting Blanks In the Linux War


by Glen Emerson Morris

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Only a few weeks after Business Week ran a cover headline naming SCO as the most hated company in the technology industry, the SCO Website was hit by a denial of service attack so intense SCO had to take its Website offline. Given the number of people in the Linux world unhappy with SCO, it's almost surprising something like this took so long to happen.

Since 2002, SCO has been claiming that Linux contains code that SCO owns, and SCO has been asking for licensing royalties not only from Linux developers but from Linux users as well. SCO isn't after small change either. They want $699.00 for every server running Linux, and $199.00 for every desktop PC running Linux. If SCO's claims are upheld in court, it could cripple the Linux movement, just at a time when Linux is really gaining market share.

The advertising and marketing industries have a lot at stake in this fight. With many advertising and marketing companies looking for a less expensive and more secure alternative to Microsoft operating systems, the outcome of SCO's legal campaign against Linux will have significant repercussions.

To fully understand the current situation with Linux, it's necessary to understand the history of Unix, which began in 1969, when it was developed by Bell Labs for AT&T. In 1993, Novell purchased the rights to Unix, but in 1995 sold the rights to Santa Cruz Operation. In 2001, Santa Cruz Operation sold the rights to Caldera, which renamed itself SCO in 2002.

In March of 2003, SCO filed a lawsuit against IBM asking for $3 billion claiming that IBM incorporated over 800,000 lines of SCO owned code into the version of Linux IBM distributes. In December, SCO sent letters to more than 1,000 corporations using Linux accusing them of illegally using SCO's code, and suggesting they pay royalties immediately.

So far, SCO has had little success in collecting royalties. In it's one major victory, SCO collected several million dollars from Microsoft, a fact it is trying to use to add credibility to its claims against other Linux users. However, Microsoft may have had other reasons for paying off SCO than the validity of SCO's claims. Microsoft sees Linux as a major threat to its dominance in the operating systems market, and by paying off SCO they may hope to deter corporate buyers from buying Linux instead of Microsoft products. Also, by paying SCO at this point, Microsoft is essentially providing funding for SCO to sue Linux developers and users.

To date, SCO's actions have failed to slow the adoption of Linux. Third quarter in 2003 sales of Linux servers were up 49.8% from a year ago. Red Hat, one of the prime Linux distributors, reported sales were up significantly.

The major reason that SCO's attacks haven't limited Linux's popularity with corporate users is the vast resources coming to Linux's defense. To counter SCO's legal attack on Linux customers, Novell and HP have indemnified their Linux customers against any legal action taken by SCO. Also, the trade group Open Source Development Labs, whose members include IBM and Intel, have created a $20 million legal defense fund for Linux customers. When the matter goes to trial, there will be some very credible witnesses for the defense

When Business Week asked Linux creator Linus Torvalds what he thought of SCO's ownership claim, he responded, "... basically SCO's arguments are just too wrong to even discuss rationally. SCO doesn't own the copyright on the files they are talking about -- the University of California at Berkeley does. But even if they did, the Linux files weren't even copied in the first place."

Novell has also produced documents that indicate Novell sold the rights to Unix, but not the Unix copyrights and patents. However, legal experts reviewing the documents say the wording is a bit muddy and open to interpretation, but if Torvald's claims are correct, this won't matter. If there is no Unix code in Linux, it won't matter who owns Unix.

Based on the facts to date, the legal attacks by SCO should not deter anyone in the advertising and marketing industries from adopting Linux. Even if SCO's claims are upheld in court, which is unlikely, the Linux open-source community could simply rewrite the code in question. Given the resources of the Linux open-source community, this could probably be done in a matter of months.

There has never been a better time to adopt Linux. The operating system is now more user friendly than ever, and with the availability of Linux-based programs compatible with Microsoft Office, it's never made more economic sense to buy Linux than now. Given the expense and security issues of Microsoft products, the business community needs an alternative to them, and soon, and Linux is the best candidate.

SCO appears to be building a company on the basis of the lawsuits it files rather than the products and services it provides. This strategy might work for SCO, but only in the short-term, In the long term, it will probably turn out that SCO was just shooting blanks.

Glen Emerson Morris has worked as a technology consultant for Network Associates, Yahoo!, Ariba, WebMD, Inktomi, Adobe, Apple and Radius, and is the developer of the Advertising & Marketing Review Data CD.

Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

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