FRAMINGHAM (09/26/2003) - Hewlett-Packard Co. this week said it will indemnify companies running Linux on its servers against any future legal action taken by The SCO Group Inc. as part of its campaign against the open-source operating system.
Eric Raymond, president of the nonprofit Open Source Initiative research group, said Linux users should view HP's promise to defend its customers in court and cover any damages or other legal ramifications as a positive sign.
"It demonstrates that HP doesn't think SCO has a legal leg to stand on," he said. "If they thought they'd have to pay off on that indemnity, they wouldn't have offered it."
Joe Poole, manager of technical support at Boscov's Department Store LLC in Reading, Pa., called the pledge "one more layer of protection" for HP users. But Poole added that even if he received such a promise from IBM, his hardware vendor, he wouldn't be convinced that Boscov's was safe from legal threats as long as the suit SCO filed against IBM in March was pending.
Nothing to Fear
But Kyle Arteaga, a spokesman for London-based Reuters Group PLC, said that HP's announcement was a noteworthy step for customers who run the Reuters Market Data System software on Linux-based HP ProLiant servers. "Anything that may remove any fear on our customers' part is a good thing," he said.
Lindon, Utah-based SCO claims that Linux is "an unauthorized derivative of Unix," and it has put Linux users on notice that it might sue them for copyright infringement if they don't license its Unix technology.
Martin Fink, vice president of Linux enterprise servers and storage at HP, said during a press conference last week that the indemnification "is about accountability and protecting the customer. We're giving the green light to customers to move forward on their Linux deployments."
The indemnification offer will take effect Oct. 1 for users who buy Linux on HP hardware and sign an addendum to their contracts. Fink said existing customers will also be able to sign up as long as they obtained their Linux distribution through HP and have standard support contracts.
Other scenarios, such as users who want to be indemnified for running a Linux distribution acquired from another vendor on HP's hardware, can be discussed on a case-by-case basis, he added.
HP's indemnification plans "reaffirm the fact that enterprise end users running Linux are exposed to legal risks," Darl McBride, SCO's president and CEO, said in a statement. "Rather than deny the existence of substantial structural problems with Linux, as many open-source leaders have done, HP is acknowledging that issues exist."
IBM spokesman Mike Darcy countered that the indemnification offer appears "to flow from the belief that SCO's claims against Linux are baseless. We agree." But Darcy wouldn't say if IBM is considering a similar move to indemnify its Linux users.