It has been some time since the SCO Group has graced the LWN front page.
That situation is just fine with us; there is no end of more interesting
stuff happening out there. A couple of events this week merit a bit of
attention, though. Even as it heads toward total irrelevance, the SCO
Group is worth watching.
SCO launched its annual SCO Forum (evidently a rather smaller event this
year) with a
delightful open letter from Darl McBride. The letter, in some ways, is
classic Darl; full of bluster and easy to refute. It's almost like the
good old days, before SCO's lawyers finally got him to keep his mouth
closed. Others have taken on the task of writing detailed rebuttals of
this letter; there is no real point in doing it here.
What is truly worth noting in the latest open letter, however, is that it
contains no threats to sue anybody. Darl, instead, seems to have concluded
that he should maybe think about trying to sell some software. As a
result, his letter is all about showing why OpenServer is better than
Linux. It is FUD from one end to the other, but it is boilerplate
commercial FUD of the type we have seen before. Darl seems to be working
from the playbook that Microsoft discarded (as ineffective) some years
ago. The "Linux has no support" line is a holdover from the 1990's. It
didn't work then; there is no real reason for us to worry about it now.
The SCO Group seems to have concluded that the litigation lottery ticket is not going
to pay off, and so is putting its effort into plan B. Had the company
done that a few years ago, it might have gotten somewhere. At this point,
however, SCO seems unlikely to survive the countercharges being leveled
against it. Novell's attempt to force SCO's remaining cash into an escrow
account could, on its own, suffice to end the show - before companies like IBM
and Red Hat even begin to get their licks in.
Some additional amusement can be found in IBM's
deposition of Erik Hughes, a SCO employee. One widely-reported outcome
from this deposition (which was just recently unsealed) is that it seems
likely that UnixWare's "Linux Kernel Personality" product included Linux
kernel code for a couple of releases. If that is indeed the way of things,
SCO may have been in violation of the GPL - at the same time it was
charging copyright infringements by others.
Remember the "Chris and Darl show" teleconferences from the early days of
the IBM suit? One could almost get nostalgic about those bizarre
exercises. Your editor would always try to get a question in, but,
somehow, tragically, time always ran out before the question could be
asked. In August, 2003, a message was sent
to SCO's Blake Stowell and Chris Sontag asking a question which was not
heard during the teleconference: noting that the 2.4 kernel was still
available from SCO's FTP server, your editor asked just how SCO was able to
reconcile its claims over the kernel with the GPL and its distribution of
vast amounts of code over which it could have no possible claim. An
interesting, private conversation resulted, in which a SCO employee stated
that he did
not think the GPL was valid. Nothing publishable ever came from the
exchange, however, and your editor had long since forgotten about it.
It can be a surprising experience to run across one's name unexpectedly in
a legal document. IBM's lawyers, it seems, found that old message and
brought it up in the Hughes deposition. Your editor, it seems, was one of
a group of "long-haired smelly's" asking about the contradictions inherent
in SCO's continued distribution of Linux while claiming that it contained
SCO's proprietary code. The continued availability of the kernel on SCO's
site has been well documented; the "smelly's" helped to document that SCO
knew it was a violation of the GPL at the time.
In retrospect, it seems clear that IBM's lawyers could have disposed of the
SCO threat on their own. That notwithstanding, the community's
"distributed defense" response to this attack is notable. As a group, we
dug up vast amounts of information, poked holes in SCO's claims, and
singlehandedly won the PR battle (which IBM could not engage in). Anybody
contemplating an attack on the free software community will need to think
long and hard about how to handle the community's response. On the other
hand, the sheer buffoonery of SCO's attack presents a risk of its own:
somebody may well decide that SCO's failure resulted from poor execution,
rather than an inherently bad idea. Should that happen, we may have to go
through all of this again.
[Coming soon: the Grumpy and Malodorous Editor's Guide to All-Natural
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