SCO Linux lawsuit bizarreness

Recently SCO launched a lawsuit alleging that Linux contained SCO UNIX source code, illegally copied. SCO is pointing fingers at IBM, suggesting that hackers working on AIX lifted code and added it to Linux. In addition, SCO has written to 1,500 companies telling them they might be next if they don’t stop using Linux.

The bizarre thing about the lawsuit is that SCO themselves are Linux vendors. For years they have been shipping Caldera OpenLinux, which contains a number of modifications to the standard Linux kernel. Clearly if the kernel does contain SCO code, SCO themselves have shipped that code under the GPL. Since code shipped under the GPL cannot be pulled out of free distribution, and SCO clearly had the legal right to put their code under the GPL, it appears to me that Linux should be pretty safe.

It’s going to be interesting to see how they play this one in court… “Yes, your honor, we did do a lot of work on the Linux kernel code, but we had no idea the code we were working on was ours when we shipped it. I mean, how were we supposed to recognize it?”

Last week SCO belatedly realized that they weren’t exactly doing themselves any favors, and yanked OpenLinux from sale.

Now there’s been another interesting development. Microsoft has licensed SCO UNIX. This has provided them with an opportunity to take a swipe at Linux by talking about their “ongoing commitment to respecting intellectual property”. (Yeah, tell that to Stac Electronics and the inventor of the wheel mouse.)

Nobody knows whether SCO threatened Microsoft with a lawsuit, or whether Microsoft actually has any products that might use UNIX source code. What is pretty clear is that SCO have had dismal financial results for the last six years, and without a sudden injection of unknown amounts of cash from Microsoft, they might not have had the money to fight their lawsuit.

Is this Microsoft shoring up SCO after the fact, or is this payback for a plan suggested to SCO by Microsoft in the first place? Take your pick, depending on how smart and devious you think Steve Ballmer is. It’s quite possible that SCO came up with the idea themselves; I’m sure they’ve been very unhappy with the way IBM seems to have placed Linux, rather than AIX, at the center of its plans for the future.

Though the lawsuit seems to me to be pretty meritless, SCO has timed it carefully: IBM’s UNIX license comes up for renewal on June 13th. If IBM doesn’t cave, SCO might force IBM to stop distributing AIX. From a practical point of view, Linux still isn’t ready to take over from AIX at the high end, so IBM probably can’t afford to let SCO kill off AIX. Many have speculated that SCO really wants to get bought out by IBM as their exit strategy from a hostile marketplace.

I’ve always been more of a SYSV than a BSD UNIX guy. I just don’t like the cruftiness of a lot of the BSD stuff; SYSV always seemed to have the cleaner design. (terminfo vs termcap, runlevels vs startup scripts, lp vs lpr, ksh vs csh and sh, …) However, one thing this lawsuit has done is to drive me solidly into the BSD camp. I never want to use a SYSV system again. Farewell, Solaris.

[I should point out that I have no knowledge of IBM’s official position regarding the lawsuit. The above comments are obviously not official in any way. I don’t use AIX, and I don’t know any AIX developers. I do know someone who worked for SCO, but he jumped ship a few years ago when the company started going down the toilet.]