Hewlett-Packard Co. on Wednesday threw its hat into the ring over whether Linux contains unlawful Unix code, saying it would indemnify its customers against any legal liability from the use of Linux.
The SCO Group, which holds the rights to the Unix operating system, claims that Linux is an unauthorized derivative of Linux and sued IBM earlier this year for more than $3 billion.
In a conference call with the media, Martin Fink, a vice president at HP, said the company will indemnify new customers who buy Linux from HP, agree not to make unauthorized changes to the source code and sign a standard support contract.
Current HP Linux customers who have not altered their Linux distribution and who signed an amended contract will also be protected by HP, he said.
The move is interesting as SCO CEO Darl McBride has repeatedly said his company has no intention of taking action against either Sun Microsystems Inc. or HP for breach of their Unix licenses, saying they have both adhered to the terms of those agreements, unlike IBM.
But SCO earlier this year warned individual business Linux users that they faced legal liability for using Linux and then, at its SCO Forum event in Las Vegas last month, said it intended to sue them. SCO then also rolled out a licensing plan that it said would protect Linux users from legal liability.
HP was one of the largest sponsors of the SCO Forum, which enraged members of the open-source community, but later withdrew from giving a keynote or any other address at the event.
HP, which sells Windows, Linux and its own brand of Unix, HP-UX, sells a large number of Linux-based systems. The move is designed to ensure that customers continue to move forward with their Linux plans.
For its part, SCO immediately seized on HPs announcement as validation of its claims, saying in a statement, “HPs actions this morning reaffirm the fact that enterprise end users running Linux are exposed to legal risks. Rather than deny the existence of substantial structural problems with Linux as many Open Source leaders have done, HP is acknowledging that issues exist and is attempting to be responsive to its customers request for relief. HPs actions are driving the Linux industry towards a licensing program. In other words, Linux is not free,” it said.
The move by HP to indemnify its customers puts enormous pressure on IBM, which has so far declined to do so, to do the same. SCO went on to say “Now that HP has stepped up for its customers, SCO once again encourages Red Hat, IBM and other major Linux vendors to do the same. We think their customers will demand it.”
Jonathan Schwartz, the executive vice president of software for Sun, also railed against Dell Inc. and IBM for refusing to indemnify their customers. “Sun provides indemnity for all its products, and we believe that that confidence and security matter to enterprises building their business on our products,” he told eWEEK.
“That IBM and Dell refuse to offer indemnity suggests theyre using the community to harvest revenue, while leaving risk with those who contribute to open source (who may not get paid), or those who use it (and dont get any protection). Its a real issue—and Sun will protect its customers, and vouch for its products. That Dell and IBM wont vouch for Linux strikes me as hypocritical—especially for IBM, the industrys most pernicious patent litigator—they derive huge revenues from suing companies based on the claim theyre using IBMs technology.
“IBM doesnt talk a lot about that. And now theyre saying they wont offer any level of formal protection for Linux customers. That they dont need it. On the one hand theyre suing companies based on claims of stolen IP, and on the other, theyre delivering products and refusing to give customers the security that IBM stands behind the intellectual property. Maybe its me, but I dont understand,” he added.