SCO: Following the Money

 
 
By eWEEK Editorial Board  |  Posted 2003-06-02
 
 
 

Watergate source Deep Throat was right: "Follow the money." The furor surrounding ownership of intellectual property in Unix and Linux is not about technology or even ideology. Its about the money—specifically, the business interests that are served by casting a shadow of doubt over the legitimacy of open-source platforms and services.

If Linux users are menaced with the prospect that open source code has been kidnapped, rather than being freely given up for adoption, then Linux will have to travel with a retinue of lawyers whose meters are always running. Surrounded by doubts, the Unix-family operating systems will survive only if supported by substantial revenue streams to pay license fees.

Code thats written for love, or at least from conviction rather than for money, is doing increasingly important work every day. Its pushing IT vendors to deliver better value in ways that benefit the industry in the long run and that benefit customers right away.

Its only fair to acknowledge the possibility that Microsofts payment to SCO is merely a pragmatic, even gentlemanly gesture from a company that does not wish to be perceived as misappropriating other peoples property. The company has in the past had to pay penalties for this, as in the Stacker lawsuit, and may simply have learned its lesson.

But there is certainly grounds for skepticism as well. Although Microsoft professed concern for the interests of its customers in paying a license fee to SCO, Microsoft is at the same time giving SCO the fuel it needs to generate a smoke screen that obscures the biggest competitive threat to Windows. After all, SCO can tell others, if lavishly lawyered Microsoft gave up without a fight, then SCOs assertions must certainly have merit. It hardly takes a cynic to see that Microsoft certainly would gain from redefining the game so that it costs a lot of money to stay in it.

Ironically, the trademarked Unix code base, whose ownership has tortuously made its way to whats now called SCO, may be substantially tainted with BSD code, minus license attributions and copyright notices, according to a recent position paper by Open Source Initiative co-founder Eric Raymond. If necessary, wed welcome a resolution of the question by legal process.

Raymonds views are no doubt not the last well hear from experts in the software community. As this discussion continues, IT shops that are implementing Linux have no reason to panic. Lets not forget that SCO is going after IBM with regard to code thats been transferred to the Linux base. If anything, IBMs legal pockets are deeper than Microsofts, and the company is no stranger to controversial legal entanglements. So far, IBM shows no sign of caving. That indicates to us that SCOs legal ground may not be as solid as the company would like the world to think.

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