More about SCO vs. Linux

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Yesterday's article about the SCO Group and Linux generated a slew of somewhat predictable hate mail from the Linux community. So be it. I wasn't trying to stir up a hornet's nest, but as longtime WinInfo Daily UPDATE readers know, I'm not afraid to tackle the topics that the mainstream media sugarcoats. Many Linux backers think the story shows that I'm pro-Microsoft or (even more hilarious to me) in Microsoft's back pocket. From a financial perspective, I wish that were true, but it isn't, and I routinely criticize Microsoft, sometimes quite vehemently, when I believe the company deserves it. The truth is that the SCO's lawsuit against IBM could have far-reaching implications in the industry, and I need to present the story in a way that I feel is accurate.

Like the Linux community, I originally described IBM's move from UNIX to Linux as an inevitable, commonsense market decision and scorned the SCO lawsuit against IBM, thinking it spurious, the last-ditch effort of a struggling company to generate revenue through litigation. I still feel that money is the primary motivating factor behind the lawsuit. My only other coverage of the lawsuit occurred in March, when I described SCO's lawsuit as an "interesting legal move" and discussed Microsoft's licensing of the UNIX source code.

However, I don't agree with Linux backers who have decried SCO's "secretive" decision not to unveil details of its charges publicly. This move makes sense, as SCO is heading to court--or, more agreeably for the company, to a fat settlement payoff--and SCO wants to hold the evidence as close to its corporate chest as possible. The company recently fended off two of the biggest criticisms of its suit by nullifying Novell's challenge to the UNIX copyright and by opening up the UNIX source code to journalists and analysts who agree to a nondisclosure agreement (NDA). As I wrote yesterday, to my knowledge two such analysts have reported that portions of the UNIX System V and Linux source code are identical, down to the programmer's notes. This evidence is somewhat damning, despite what open-source guru Eric Raymond says.

The biggest criticism of yesterday's article concerned my comment about Linux "fostering and promoting" source code theft. Many people misconstrued this comment, which means it was probably poorly written. Let me clarify. Because Linux development is essentially open and thousands of programmers from all over the world contribute source code to the project, no central management or control over those people exists, and Linux maintainers don't know where program code was originally developed. Linux backers tell me that Linux is actually antitheft because the source code is open for inspection, but this comment is a red herring. Virtually no one who views the code would know whether that code was stolen, and even if someone discovered suspect code, the culprits would have little chance of being caught, prosecuted, or punished in any way.

Regarding my being a Microsoft supporter, in yesterday's article, I asked, "How did the wunderkind Linux find itself in such a compromising, Microsoft-like position?" In other words, I found it odd that Linux should be faced with the sort of questioning that one might expect of a less well-respected entity--i.e. Microsoft.

And I still find the Linux community's reaction to this problem to be questionable. This situation is the second instance this year in which vocal members of a major open-source project claimed to be above criticism (the other was's inappropriate response to an open-source project that questioned its failed attempt to trademark the term Firebird). In both cases, members of the open-source projects hurled childish accusations when, in fact, some serious concerns were raised. I'm especially troubled that the Linux community, which wants to be a force in IT, hasn't reacted more professionally. Yes, this response to SCO will raise red flags in the very enterprises the community is trying to court. And yes, this subject raises yet another problem with the structure under which Linux is developed.

I'm not sure whether SCO's suit has any merit; that decision will likely be made in court. Novell's capitulation over the UNIX copyright ownership and the fact that analysts and the press are now able to view the source code comparisons are damning situations for Linux, but not the endgame for this saga. But however you view this case, the SCO suit should be a wake-up call for the Linux community.


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