Why a SCO Win Could Be Good for Unix

Guest commentary: If SCO should somehow succeed against IBM and other Linux vendors, BSD Unix is a robust open-Unix alternative.

There has been much hand-wringing over the legal threat posed by The SCO Group Inc.s actions against IBM Corp. and other vendors of Linux over the past few weeks. Not only are vendors looking for ways to address the accusations, but nervous systems administrators have to hope less-educated managers wont be spooked by the brush with which Linux has been painted.

Even with all the ominous portents looming, theres a bright spot in the cloud of SCO legal posturing. For a moment, lets assume that SCO were to win against IBM, and thus, against the other flavors of Linux, even if only by precedent or by a smattering of like evidence. Whats an enterprising Linux vendor to do?


For the bulk of the commercial open-source vendors, a move to another Unix-like code base would be a natural alternative to continuing against a Linux weakened by SCOs grandstanding. Many Unix enthusiasts are already there: operating on some sort of BSD base.

Why turn to a BSD base as the basis for a commercial open Unix? BSD has been around, its been proven, its stable and has a broad groundswell of development. BSD-based Unix systems have been around for multiple decades now. Theres sufficient documentation, standardization and educational resources to promote their development. BSD systems have been implemented on such a wide range of hardware platforms and operating environments that their value is accepted almost without question.

BSD-based Unix systems reputation for stability is nearly unmatched in the world of computer operating systems. There are vast numbers of developers and programmers whove written software for BSD, thus making software development for BSD at the current levels of Linux readily possible.

This isnt to say that investments in Linux development have been wasted either. BSD Unix variants have a Linux-compatible layer available, thus allowing existing Linux software to operate with little or no modification. Much of the more common desktop software running on Linux is based more heavily on the X Window System and/or standard window managers (such as Gnome and KDE) than on Linux APIs, so porting existing Linux applications to a BSD base should be painless. More importantly, use of similar APIs and programming languages should allow existing Linux-savvy programmers to transition over to a BSD-based system with relative ease (Linux vendors personnel managers may breathe a sigh of relief now.)

So, if by some stroke of lightning SCO should win its barely there case against IBM (and by association, other Linux vendors), dont despair. Just start sampling OpenBSD, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OS X and their ilk—and be prepared to educate your CEO as to the future after "that Linux stuff."

Pete Tyler is a desktop support/networking specialist whos worn a variety of hats in IT for the past 15 years. These roles have included documentation, programming, team leadership, user advocacy, and help-desk support.