Analysts: SCO legal challenge part of Linux evolution

The fits and starts in the evolution of open-source software, from ongoing legal challenges against Linux by The SCO Group Inc. to global companies embracing open-source in recent years, are all part of the normal business technology and adoption landscape, said analysts at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo yesterday.

In fact, rather than being dead ends for open-source and Linux development, the bumps along the way will more likely boost its use and acceptance by companies.

That was the consensus of the "State of Open Source Roundtable," in which four leading industry analysts gathered to talk about the status of enterprise open-source software today.

"It's a series of challenges," with normal ups and downs, as open-source software continues its natural development, said George Weiss, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

He noted that Linux is in many ways already being absorbed by various vendors. "There's no such thing as a Linux vendor anymore, per se," Weiss said, pointing to major IT companies such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co., which continue to make Linux an integral part of their offerings to customers. "Linux has been absorbed as a technology in their overall framework.

"I actually think that (in five or 10 years) we won't be meeting here on the topic of Linux," because the technology will become so embedded and embraced in business IT that it won't even be a question to use it, Weiss said.

Joining Weiss on the panel were analyst Dan Kusnetzky of Framingham, Mass.-based IDC, Pierre Fricke of Port Chester, N.Y.-based D.H. Brown Associates Inc. and Ted Schadler of Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. The roundtable was moderated by open-source luminary Larry Augustin, a partner at Azure Capital Partners and co-founder of the former VA Linux Systems, now known as VA Software.

Even as open-source projects continue to develop, wider business adoption will need to be nurtured, they said.

Improved integration and deeper development tools, for example, are still needed to help businesses create workable and more reliable systems and bring open-source use to more critical areas of their IT infrastructure, Kusnetzky said. "I think it's still piece parts at this point," he said. "The (IT) ecosystem has to be important because no one vendor can do it all."

Not surprisingly, a key topic at the event has been The SCO Group Inc.'s ongoing legal assault on Linux. The Lindon, Utah-based company continues to push its US$3 billion lawsuit against IBM, charging that IBM illegally introduced some of SCO's Unix intellectual property into the Linux development process.

"The fact is, there are no facts on the table yet that are public" about the complicated lawsuit, said Fricke. That means essentially that until the facts are known, corporate Linux users don't have solid information on which to act, he said.

Weiss was adamant in saying that Linux needs its backers to come forward more forcefully to counter the anti-Linux body blows being dished out on a regular basis by SCO. "They can't keep sitting around absorbing what SCO throws as punches," Weiss said. He lauded Linux vendor Red Hat Inc.'s announcement Monday that it is suing SCO for making false claims against Linux and for SCO's "unfair and deceptive" actions in the marketplace. Red Hat also announced the creation of a $1 million "Open Source Now Fund" to pay for legal expenses associated with any infringement claims brought by SCO in the future against any companies using Linux.

The round table met before IBM announced that it, too, had filed a complaint against SCO.

Linux vendors have "to respond in a formal type of way ... like (Red Hat CEO) Matthew (Szulik) has done finally," Weiss said. "If every Linux vendor donated one half of 1 percent of their revenues from Linux (to the Open Source Now Fund), you'd have one hell of a defense fund."

"SCO may not be the last case" challenging open-source, Weiss said. These kinds of legal issues need to be nailed down to better protect users and vendors in the future, he said.

Whatever rulings emerge from the case will likely reverberate in the open-source and Linux communities for years, said Schadler. And that will have a direct effect on the continuing deployment of open-source software in the corporate world, he said.

One of the key reasons open-source software is chosen today by corporate IT leaders is that it allows shared and rapid innovation, providing answers than can be found in months rather than in years, Schadler said.

Another key, said Weiss, is that open-source allows user companies to choose their vendors and platforms based on needs and costs, rather than being tied to specific vendors and the limitations often inherent in that strategy.

"I think that they're rebelling against single-vendor dominance," Weiss said.

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