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July 19, 2003

SCO, the boil on the rear end of the IT industry

Posted by TMLutas

Do you remember the annoying nerdy kid in high school? Now imagine him twice as annoying, dumb to boot, and with a plan to take over the world via lawsuit. That is today's SCO (Santa Cruz Operation).

SCO owns the rights to Sys V UNIX (at least probably) and claims that IBM (whose IP rights protection unit may outnumber SCO's entire roster of employees) illegally transferred technology licensed from SCO (really it's predecessor in owning the IP) into Linux, thus violating the terms of its license to make and distribute AIX, IBM's Sys V derivative UNIX.

Since IBM is laughing in their face over these violation of contract claims, SCO has announced it's pulled IBM's AIX license which means a good chunk of world industry does not have a valid license to run their mission critical systems if SCO is to be believed. Not many people believe.

So far, we have a very high stakes, garden variety contract dispute but for SCO it's all about the FUD. They have, at various times, referred to copyright, trade secret, and patent violations in Linux and have threatened to sue anybody who uses the stuff, though so far it's all legal threats and no papers have been filed against Linux per se.

Now, SCO proposes to create a Linux licensing program that essentially asserts that they won't sue anybody who pays them. In any country with a reasonable "loser pays" judicial rule, they would get few takers but they are aiming at the US which lacks such a rule and it's very easy to be bankrupt by frivolous legal action.

the Unix world has seen this all before with the USL v. BSD lawsuit that led to trivial changes in BSD (and in exchange for the USL violations of BSD copyright to be forgiven), the absolute stop of BSD's market momentum and the decision of a Finnish programmer to avoid lawyers and write a UN*X work alike instead called Linux. Oh well, it worked for awhile.

Back to SCO, it has to know that the practical effect of this renaissance of vicious UNIX litigation is to make none of the players win and the only winner be Microsoft. After all, that's what happened the first time around in the incredibly complex tale of the UNIX wars. It is unlikely that a judge will order a significant chunk of the biggest businesses on the planet to destroy or return all copies of AIX and thus take down their mission critical systems that depend on it. Given that SCO has not actually released the code that is allegedly infringing, it's very difficult to figure out whether the offending code had an AT&T pedigree or a BSD one. So what's SCO's game? It likely wants to be such a big annoyance that somebody buys them just to shut down the lawsuit machine.

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