SCO Linux 4 Is Rough Around the Edges but Shows Promise

Open-source components mean companies needn't fear being locked into one upgrade path.

As much as Linux is pitted against Windows in the popular imagination, Linux has enjoyed perhaps more success supplanting Unix in the enterprise. The SCO Groups SCO Linux 4 (brand-new, despite its enumeration) can provide companies with an effective path to such migrations, particularly at sites that are running SCOs UnixWare.

Although SCO traces its Linux heritage through Caldera International Inc., SCO Linux 4 is a product of the UnitedLinux effort, which includes Conectiva S.A. and Turbolinux Inc. and is led by SuSE Inc. As a result, SCO Linux 4, which began shipping at the end of November, has a great deal in common with SuSE Linux (see eWeek Labs May 27, 2002, review of SuSE Linux).

The Linux offerings from each of the UnitedLinux members share a common software core with mostly superficial software differences.

The benefit for users (and no less for UnitedLinux members) is that independent software vendors that certify their software for one UnitedLinux product assure compatibility for all four member distributions.

So far, the vendors that have announced plans to support United- Linux include IBM, Computer Associates International Inc., SAP AG and several other major players. (A more complete list is at

UnitedLinux members can set their distributions apart from one another by bundling separate front ends with the core components. For example, SCO Linux provides the open-source Webmin and Usermin system administration tools rather than the full complement of YAST (Yet Another Setup Tool) utilities that ship with SuSE Linux.

In tests, we found the Webmin and Usermin tools a bit rough around the edges, but they effectively aggregated most of our server configuration needs into a single Web-based interface. However, Webmin did not provide for every need. Setting display configurations, for example, is something that SuSEs YAST tools handle well, but we found no analogue in SCO Linuxs Webmin. After some digging around, we found that we could control these settings by running SuSEs sax2 display setup tool directly from the command line, rather than through YAST, as were accustomed.

Also setting SCO Linux apart is its use of the Kpackage software package management tool. Kpackage ships with KDE (K Desktop Environment) by default, and weve found Kpackage to be very useful. In contrast, the Linux distributions from SuSE and Red Hat Inc. instead pair software installation tools specific to their products with their KDE installations.

Perhaps the biggest edge that The SCO Group holds over its UnitedLinux partners, at least here in the United States, is its well-developed reseller network and its very presence in this country. SuSE is strongest in Europe, Conectiva in South America and Turbolinux in Asia-Pacific nations.

SCO Linux is priced on a per-server basis, ranging from $599 for a base edition to $2,199 for an enterprise version, with $699 classic and $1,249 business versions in between. The differences among the versions lie in the amount and promptness of support. See for the service option breakdowns.

This compares with $1,199 for Windows 2000 Server with 10 client access licenses or $3,999 for Windows 2000 Advanced Server with 25 client access licenses. Red Hats Advanced Server product is priced at $799 to $2,499, depending on the level of support.

Although nearly all the code that comprises SCO Linux 4 is covered by an open-source license, the product itself is not open source, and SCO requires a separate license for each machine running SCO Linux. The presence of certain proprietary software components, such as the included installer program from SuSE, enables SCO to restrict copying in this way.

Distribution restrictions aside, companies that run SCO Linux 4 will be running a mainstream set of open-source components, so companies that eventually wish to move to a more open distribution can do so without fear of lock-in.

SCO Linux 4 runs on x86 processors and supports up to 64GB of RAM. SCO Linux ships with Version 2.4.19 of the Linux kernel, Version 3.2 of the GNU Compiler Collection and Apache 1.3.27 Web server. KDE 3.03 and GNU Network Object Model Environment 2.0 are both included, but KDE is the default desktop environment for SCO Linux.

The operating system, along with the other UnitedLinux distributions, features an automated installation facility similar to Red Hats kick-start utility. The installation instructions are stored in an XML file, and the tool is able to convert Red Hat kick-start files to the UnitedLinux format.

Technical Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at