NZOSS to tackle SCO in court

Scepticism has abounded since SCO sued IBM in March for alleged misappropriation of trade secrets, unfair competition and other nefarious actions related to IBM's Linux business.

Scepticism has abounded since SCO sued IBM in March for alleged misappropriation of trade secrets, unfair competition and other nefarious actions related to IBM’s Linux business.

So has the suspicion that Microsoft, which would love to see the Linux world split asunder, is giving SCO a helping hand behind the scenes. Last week the sceptics finally had something to sink their teeth into (but those pathologically suspicious of Microsoft have nothing new to nurture their distrust).

SCO has been holding its annual customer, partner and reseller conference in Las Vegas, probably considered a suitable venue by those who think the company’s engaged in a high-stakes bluffing game. It was eager to dispel the popularly held belief that its sole reason for being is to manipulate its stock value so executives can make a killing through complicated share transfers.

On the one hand, it says it will remake its Unix product line. Boss Darl McBride says the company’s Unix heritage has been like a neglected house, which it’s now intent on “sprucing up”. The purpose is to make Unix a viable alternative to Linux, he says, with the release of SCO OpenServer Legend “sometime next year”. That product, with its relaxed-sounding release schedule, will feature greater database, Java and application support, as well as more extensive universal serial bus and hardware support.

And who will buy it? According to market analyst IDC, SCO’s “Unix alternative” is being prepared for those Linux users scared off by the company’s demand for licensing fees. IDC’s system software research director, Al Gillen, says SCO doesn’t consider itself to be using scare tactics, but many users feel they’re being “coerced into a decision that they’re not ready to make”.

That SCO’s intention is to strike fear, uncertainty and doubt into the heart of the Linux community has been a widespread interpretation of its IBM suit. That belief has been given weight by the company’s refusal — until last week — to reveal which parts of Linux it alleges are its stolen intellectual property. Several examples of disputed code were shown to the crowd on video screens. The examples showed code from Unix and Linux that appeared to be identical or similar — SCO alleges that millions of lines of its System V Unix code were copied into Linux.

But open source advocate Bruce Perens — the man, in fact, credited with helping define the term — rebutted the claim in relation to a 15-line snippet help up by SCO. The code concerned, photographed by someone in the conference audience and shown to Perens, had been released under the BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution) licence, allowing it to be included in Linux, Perens said. (It represents an algorithm that can be used to manage a computer’s memory.)

If all of this sounds remote and irrelevant to New Zealand, think again. SCO is biding its time — working out exactly how much to ask for — before approaching local Linux users for the licensing fee it claims it is owed. In a couple of examples, that could represent larger than six-figure amounts.

Now the legal fight is being joined by the New Zealand Open Source Society. This week it is holding a meeting of concerned Linux users, so a battle plan can be put in place. Anyone with an interest to protect should consider getting along. For information, go here.

Doesburg is Computerworld’s editor. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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