Hedging your bets on the outcome of SCO's lawsuit

SAN FRANCISCO (09/19/2003) - What can you do to protect yourself in case SCO is successful in its quest? Maybe the best strategy is to do nothing. It's a reasonable bet that SCO will lose or that any settlement costs will be borne by IBM Corp., Red Hat Inc., and/or other large companies that have a vested interest in distributing Linux-based hardware and software.

Still, it doesn't hurt to be prepared, and if you're downright paranoid, perhaps even take some evasive action.

Inventory your Linux assets -- and be thorough. It's easy to spot an IBM WebSphere J2EE application server running on Linux, but the operating system is also embedded in devices as diverse as Dell Inc.'s PowerApp file servers, SnapGear's firewalls, and Sun's now-discontinued Cobalt Qube appliances.

Although some Linux distributors may make separate arrangements with SCO to exclude their devices from a settlement, that may not happen for months or even years. Thus, you need an accurate inventory, including distribution and kernel version you're using. You must know your exposure.

Armed with that data, there are remedies. First, the obvious tack: Ignore the issue, and hope it goes away. It's likely it will.

SCO recommends that you buy a special license, called, SCO Intellectual Property License for Linux. The company says this will keep you out of trouble. I believe it's premature to pay SCO protection money. After all, it's not likely that SCO will give you a refund if it loses its lawsuit.

Another option: Attempt to "cleanse" Linux of any Unix intellectual property by using a tool such as Aduva's OnStage 2.0. It's not certain if these tools would remove your liability, however, and their technical impact on your Linux servers and applications is unclear. Keep that company bookmarked for the future.

The final choice: Abandon ship. Unattractive as that option may be, there are alternatives such as NetBSD and FreeBSD, which are free versions of Unix that are architecturally similar to Linux and have already litigated and settled. In other words, the BSD versions of Unix are safe from SCO's claims.

Safe, too, is Sun's solid Solaris x86, which is decidedly not free and is not rich in third-party application support. Porting in-house applications, at least, is feasible.

But for many third-party apps and appliances, you'll have to either stick with Linux or spend the money to replace those systems. Is that a wise course? Again, I think it's premature. The lawsuit has a long road to go, and the outcome is unclear.

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