SCO: Fish or Cut Bait

Opinion: Recently unveiled memos suggest that there is no 'there' in SCO's Linux IP claims and make you wonder if SCO can survive a suit by Red Hat.

It never occurred to me until lately that there might be nothing at all to SCOs Linux claims.

Ive often thought that SCO didnt have a real case in claiming that IBM had moved Unix code via IBMs AIX Unix system to Linux. Ive also thought that there was no way SCO would win such a case. But I always thought that SCO had something, somewhere that was the basis of their claims.

Maybe I was wrong.

The newly unveiled internal SCO memos on Linux and Unix seem to say that SCO knew there was no Unix code in Linux.

Yes, the recently unsealed 1999 Swartz memo stated that many portions of Linux were clearly written with access to a copy of Unix sources." But, Robert Swartz, a Unix on x86 developer, also wrote, "It is possible that some of the code came from Berkeley or other third party. It is also possible that the code is exempted by the BSDI/Berkeley settlement."

Three years later, in 2002, SCO developer Michael Davidson reviewed the 1999 studys results. His conclusions? "There is, indeed, a lot of code that is common between Unix and Linux (all of the X Windows system, for example) but invariably it turned out that the common code was something that both we (SCO) and the Linux community had obtained (legitimately) from some third party."

Davidson, by the by, wasnt just any SCO developer. He had written a popular program, lxrun, that enabled some Linux binaries to run on SCO Unix and Suns Solaris on Intel. This is a programmer who knew both Linux and Unix at a deep level.

Earlier, SCO made other claims stating that specific files had been taken from Unix and put into Linux. Back on Aug. 18, 2003, SCOs CEO, Darl McBride, offered a slide presentation of supposed examples of infringing literal copying from SVR4 to Linux.

McBride was wrong. One example was from BSD Unix and the other code snippet was under public domain.

/zimages/2/28571.gifWhat happens when SCO goes down in flames? Click here to read Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols thoughts.

Unbowed, on Dec. 22, 2003, SCO sent out a letter to numerous companies claiming that several dozen SCO copyrighted ABI (application binary interface) files had been swiped into Linux.

But, as open-source leaders quickly pointed out, there was a good reason why some of that code looked alike.

"Do you know that there is not one bit of executable code in those files? Theyre pretty much all macros and declarations forced by POSIX and other technical standards," said Eric Raymond, co-founder of the Open Source Initiative.

None of this is rocket-science. Its barely computer science.

You look at one page, you look at the other. Are they the same? Or, at least do they show the same idea just copied off in different code? So far, SCO has yet to show a single line of demonstrably stolen code.

Next Page: Red Hats claim is worrisome.