The SCO Threat: A professional Linux User’s Perspective

On March 7th 2003, the SCO Group filed a lawsuit against IBM for misappropriation of tradesecrets and contractual agreements. The scope of SCOs complaint is that IBM introduced parts of Unix System V and Project Monterey into the Linux kernel. Project Monterey was a effort to port IBM’s AIX 5L onto the Intel Itanium platform, IBM withdrew from that project for reasons unknown according to the press, I believe that it was because the Itanium is a bomb.

Editorial Notice: All opinions are those of the author and not necessarily those of

In April 2003, SCO released information saying that code from Unix System V was indeed present in the Linux OS. What followed was a lot of allegations that had no merit and counter allegations. In other words, the kind of activity that the press loves. Does SCO’s complaints have merit ? Im no lawyer, and after letting my attorney look at the NDA that SCO sent me, I refuse to sign it. The NDA basically states if asked the signer can only say ” Yes there is common code ” or ” no there is not any common code “. And any signer, if called into court can give no opinion but can only state those words, ” Yes ” or ” No “. We will be discussing these things further along in this paper. But, in no way is my opinion a substitute for professional legal advice and if you feel threatened by SCO’s actions, get the advice from appropriate legal counsel.

SCO’s Actions

SCO’s actions are kind of mixed to me. SCO was a distributor of Linux and for many was considered a reliable and grade A company to work with. SCO, in my opinion, is trying to bolster its UnixWare and OpenServer sales. UnixWare and OpenServer are their products that they market that run on Intel hardware. Linux is their only real competition in that marketspace and what better way to get ahead than to damage your competition. SCO’s avenue of attack is FUD, Fear Uncertainty and Doubt. SCO sent 1500 letters out to Fortune 1000 companies that use Linux mainstream. Those letters basically said that they believe linux to be a rip off of UNIX and that if SCO wins be prepared to pay royalties. SCO finally in June of 2003 released some of the examples of infringing code to some analysts and other so called ” Experts “. I find it weird that SCO also released very little code. I think the code that they did reveal was code that had the strongest case of patent infringement. Here is an excerpt of some of the analysts statements:

“If everything SCO showed me today is true, then the Linux community should be very concerned,” said Bill Claybrook, research director for Linux and open-source software at the Aberdeen Group (Boston).

Thats all fine and dandy but I find it premature for an analyst to actually make a statement like that without doing a lot more research into the SCO’s claims, there are to many holes in this case and in their allegations. By the way, the full article can be found here

Another analyst said this:

“One could argue that developers could write exact or very similar code, but the developers’ comments in the code are basically your DNA, or fingerprints, for a particular piece of source code,” said Laura DiDio, a senior analyst with the Yankee Group (Boston), who viewed the evidence.

Also another good argument but also premature. Who was the developer? Was he/she a SCO or Novell or even a AT&T employee? or, was he/she a Linux developer? too many unanswered questions, also under what conditions did they show the code. I wouldn’t say a developers comments in the code are fingerprints or DNA, because Developers comments can be altered where DNA cannot. Under SCO’s conditions they can show what they want to show, and they can even manufacture their own evidence if they so wish.

DiDio and Claybrook said they were given side-by-side copies of Unix and Linux code to compare. Neither was paid for the work, and both agreed that the evidence suggests SCO has a strong case in its $1 billion suit against IBM Corp. and in its scrap with the Linux community.

Was the Linux code that they were shown downloaded directly from under the witness of the analysts or was it given to them directly from SCO’s labs. Either way, these people are taking SCO’s side of the story without doing any kind of strong research. They do not know any of the developers of Linux or of Unix, they were not able to talk to any of the developers of the infringing code. Something SCO will have to allow the courts to do if it decides to pursue this any further in a courtroom.

Furthermore, I have used UnixWare and UnixWare, to put in laymens terms, stinks. Until version 7.1.3 UnixWare had no support of any kind for USB, Xeon processors or any support for any kind of modern device. UnixWare had much more to gain from Linux than Linux had to gain from UnixWare. I bet thats something SCO forgot to tell the analysts and other “experts” that have observed the code thus far. Another thing I found interesting from SCO’s more recent action and what the analysts said is this:

But analysts categorically disagreed with that viewpoint last week. “SCO is not trying to destroy Linux,” said DiDio of the Yankee Group. “That’s silly. This is about paying royalties.”

Thats strikes an interesting question, Why should we have to pay royalties on LVM and SMP ? Shocked that I figured out what code SCO was complaining about without looking at code. You are thinking, ” This guy is crazy ” or ” He is fishing” But if you think about it the height of SCO’s complaint is that Linux surpassed UnixWare in the Enterprise Sector. For an OS to survive in the Enterprise sector what does the OS need:

Strong SMP support — How well it handles multiple processors
Strong LVM support — How well it handles Logical Volumes
Support for devices users are realistically expected to use — USB, Firewire, Audio, Video, Application Support

SMP and LVM was present in UnixWare before Linux had it, Although UnixWare did not handle SMP very well at all, LVM was okay but it is nothing like what Linux had before. That is all UnixWare had. Device support, as stated before, was superior in Linux long before it was even present in UnixWare and device support in Linux is better than what UnixWare ever had. Cost is an issue and Linux will always be cheaper than Unix, and retraining IT personnel from a Unix based system to Linux based systems is nil and takes very little time. Application support is a non-issue as well, it is much easier to port a custom Application from Unix to Linux than it would be to port a custom Application from Microsoft Windows to Linux. So in the end, LVM and SMP are the only two things that Unix had over Linux.

SCO’s chances in court

Im no attorney, so I do not know what exactly whats going to happen, nor can I offer any legal strategies to IBM or to SCO but I do not think SCO has much of a chance. In order for SCO to prevail, in my opinion, is that SCO will have to provide testimony from ex-employees and many developers and the history of Unix development is so muddled with failure and disorganization that it will be hard for SCO to prove its case. SCO says that it is on Linux developers to prove that they wrote the code, it is the other way around, SCO has to prove that the Linux community did actually steal it. I do not care if you show a million lines of code, without the testimony of the original developers, you are royally SOL. Ransom Love will have to testify as will all of his original team, and I think that it will be found that alot of Unix code was put into Linux by Love and his crew. In my opinion, SCO better make a reasonable settlement or pray for a buyout. If they go to court I give SCO a 20 % chance, and I give them that because we do not know how versed the judge or the jury will be in software development.

If SCO Wins

Mighty big IF. If SCO was to win, the offending code will be revealed and it will be removed and replaced. Linux and Open Source Software is too pervasive for any real damage to be done to it. Will we Professional Linux users be required to pay royalties ? It is a possibility but I doubt it. Patches will be released and some of the distributors may take a little bit of a hit because they will probably have to offer new versions of their distributions and make them available at no cost to current customers.


SCO will have to find a better way to reveal their “stolen” code. The way it is being done now is to flawed and raises questions of reliability. Should you switch Operating Systems or slow down Linux deployments? Once again consult your attorney because all situations are different. One of the things that has come of this case is the need for Copyright and Patent protection from the Linux community. It is an issue that will have to be addressed and Linus should form a team that Copyrights and Patents are their sole responsibility. Also, developers document everything you do and submit. I know doing documentation stinks, heck I hate doing changelogs myself but it needs to be done. Make it hard for SCO or any other company to come up and say that you are infringing their patents or copyrights. In any case, the whole SCO situation to me is both amusing and sad, amusing because what they are saying and the way they are acting is almost unbelievable. Sad because SCO thinks FUD is the only way they can be competitive.

All companies mentioned here are the registered trademarks of their respective owners. Linux is the registered trademark of Linus Torvalds and UNIX is the registered trademark of the Open Group.


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