SCO: When Bad Things Happen to Good Brands

Opinion: SCO's memory is being trashed by people who don't appreciate the fondness many of us still have for its previous incarnation as The Santa Cruz Operation, David Coursey writes.

People who have only recently become familiar with a company called SCO will be forgiven if they believe the three initials refer to the companys "Suit-Crazy Owners."

This is, after all, the company thats pinning its future on winning lawsuits against competitors over technology it really had no part in creating.

I wont try to explain the tortured history of how some portion of Unix intellectual property ended up in the hands of a Utah company whose management appears to have spent too much time out in the hot sun.

Thats a sad tale that starts with the breakup of AT&T, slides through the decline of Novell and then the decline of the "real" SCO, and eventually runs smack-dab into Linus Torvalds followers. The story, as all stories of companies in decline seem to, leads into the courthouse.

But that isnt the story I want to tell. Rather, I want to talk about the SCO that I knew. The company founded by Larry and Doug Michels that created the first Unix that would run atop Intel processors. That company, based in the college/beach town of Santa Cruz, Calif., epitomized an industry culture now gone.

I was thinking about this the other day while sitting with Doug Michels—his father, Larry, died a few years ago—on the upstairs deck of his home high above Santa Cruz, overlooking the redwoods and the Pacific Ocean. (It also overlooks the world-famous Mystery Spot, in case youre ever in the neighborhood).

SCO was founded in 1979 as The Santa Cruz Operation and thoroughly reflected the ethos of the community for which it was named. There was the corporate hot tub, available to all and the subject of at least one harassment suit.

There was my friend, the SCO marketing guy, who created the famous "flying toasters" Jefferson Airplane album cover—the winged toasters were later used by AfterDark for its screensaver—and promoted the company as he would a rock band.

New products were touted with movie-style posters, whose titles I forget but remember seeing tacked up in the cubicles of many reporters who followed the company. The companys yearly SCO Forum conference gathered customers and the Unix community for a week every summer, always including a concert done by someone reasonably famous. I remember Roger McGuinn of the Byrds performed one year.

I should stop and point out that SCO Forum and the SCO product line still exist, and the new company, formally called The SCO Group Inc., still sells Unix. Though the companys recent financial results show it doesnt sell it very well, and things arent getting better.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read about SCOs release of its new version of UnixWare.

The SCO Group was previously known as Caldera, a company former Novell boss Ray Noorda seems to have founded mostly as a way to take on Microsoft.

Next Page: SCO probably could have been run better.