Codeville Chronicles 001 by J.D. Hildebrand

By: J.D. Hildebrand

Abstract: I read the news today, oh boy...LinuxWorld and SCO's assault on Linux


I awaken early as the sun plays brightly over my face through the open window. I like sleeping with the window open, this time of year — it lets the house breathe a little. And I like to see the breeze ruffle the curtains. If there's a sweeter sight than white curtains dancing to birdsong against the clear blue sky of a summer morning, I'd like to know what it is. Of course, winters are pleasant too, here in Codeville. But that's an observation for another day.

I start the coffee brewing and fetch today's edition of the Errant Pointer from the front porch. Then I throw on some clothes, drag a razor across my chin, and let the smell of fresh-brewed coffee lead me back to the kitchen. I pull out my favorite mug  the one that says "it's going to change our lives, you know" on the side  pour myself a big cup of java, and sit down to read the paper.

The front page of today's Pointer is full of articles from LinuxWorld, the big open-source conference and exposition that's going on in San Francisco.

It's a funny thing about Linux. A couple years ago, any article about Linux would be full of news about start-up companies. You know, bands of idealistic free-software dreamers suddenly shocked into corporate shareholderhood in the wake of record-setting IPOs. But now all the Linux news comes from old-economy companies like Sun Microsystems, IBM, SCO, and Novell. It's almost as if the open source revolution never happened.

SCO's Linux wars

The first item is about the big fight between SCO Group and the Linux world. It's a complicated story that reaches all the way back to AT&T Bell Labs and the creation of Unix in 1970. Unix kicked around AT&T (and UC Berkeley  but that's another story) for a couple of decades, eventually finding a home at AT&T subsidiary Unix Systems Laboratories. (For the fascinating full version of this story, visit the Bell Labs History Web site.)

My, that's some good coffee!Novell purchased Unix Systems Laboratories and Unix in 1993. Then in 1995 Novell sold its Unix business to the Santa Cruz Operation, which had enjoyed years of success as a provider of commercial Unix systems.

Enter Caldera Systems, a Utah-based company started by Novell founder Ray Noorda. Caldera was a big deal in the nascent Linux market and used a chunk of its IPO money to purchase SCO's Unix and professional services divisions. Caldera thus became a major player in both the Linux and the Unix markets. In 2002, Caldera changed its name to SCO Group.

Last March, SCO Group declared war on Linux. The first shot was fired at IBM in the form of a $1 billion lawsuit. SCO's lawyers charged that IBM's Linux distributions included copyrighted SCO Unix source code. A couple months later, the company sent threatening letters to large companies, warning that they could be subject to legal liability if they continued to use Linux. Leaders of the open-source movement wasted no time in condemning SCO Group's actions.

SCO Group has demanded that IBM cease selling operating systems that are based in part on unlicensed Unix source code, and the company has asked the courts to enforce the demand by granting an injunction against IBM. SCO has declined to renew a source code licensing agreement with IBM that expired in June.

But according to Errant Pointer reports, SCO hasn't managed to dampen IBM's enthusiasm for Linux. In fact, IBM seems to be cranking up its Linux activities to higher levels (IBM revs up Linux business).

Meanwhile, Linux vendor Red Hat has filed a preemptive suit against SCO Group (Red Hat files suit against SCO). Red Hat has asked the courts to declare that its products are free of SCO Group encumbrance (press release). SCO has threatened a countersuit (press release).

SCO targets users 

SCO Group's position is that every Linux distribution based on the v. 2.4 and 2.5 kernels include SCO intellectual property. The inevitable result of this belief is that anyone who acquired Linux from anyone other than SCO must either pay a licensing fee to SCO or stop using Linux. Right?

SCO thinks so. That's why the company has created the SCO Intellectual Property License. Under terms of this license, users who pay a fee ranging from $199 (the promotional price for a desktop system) to $4,999 (for an eight-CPU server) can safely use Linux in binary form. (This license does not include authorized access to source code.) This is many times the fee charged by Linux distro companies, but SCO Group thinks it's reasonable. As the company states on its Web site:

SCO has invested hundreds of millions in the development of UNIX and is therefore entitled to a reasonable return on its investment. SCO believes that major portions of the 2.4 and later versions of the Linux kernel are unauthorized derivative works of SCO UNIX IP.

The implication here is that Linux users who fail to purchase SCO Unix licenses are in violation of intellectual-property law, and subject to lawsuits from SCO Group. Indeed, SCO has warned Linux shops that they may face such suits.

You might expect all of this to put the brakes on Linux adoption rates. But apparently not. Researchers at Evans Data have completed a study suggesting that more than 70 percent of IT professionals "do not believe that the SCO lawsuit will affect plans to deploy Linux-based technologies" (Study: Linux use undeterred by SCO suit).

Another man who isn't worried is Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy. Responding to a question about SCO's actions, McNealy told a reporter: "I'm thrilled to death SCO can't revoke our Unix license. We can indemnify our users, and if anybody's nervous about AIX or Linux, we've got Solaris on x86 and Solaris in the datacenter. We run like the wind. We're open. There are no downsides" (McNealy: Sun safe from SCO damage).

More news from LinuxWorld

I down the dregs of a second cup of coffee and scan the rest of the headlines. Linux stories dominate the news section:

I'm about to flip to the sports page when I hear a beep beep from the street. My car pool's here  time for work.

I fold up the paper. I'll have to finish it later.

J.D. HildebrandJ.D. Hildebrand has been an award-winning magazine editor, a self-taught programmer, and a mediocre jazz musician. Today he serves as a senior consultant at Abacus Consulting, a New York-based editorial-training firm. J.D. has done a fair bit of writing, including the Open Source Watch column from SD Times, many contributions to the Borland Developer Network, and miscellaneous pieces (like this one and this one) that you can still find in the darker corners of the Internet, where no one has swept up in a while. J.D.'s contributions to computer journalism seemed important at the time. He edited Computer Language, Portable 100, Professional Computing, Epson World, Portable Computer, and Unix Review. He started Data General Micro World, Embedded Systems Programming, VAR, PC Companion, Laptop User, Windows Tech Journal, VB Tech Journal, Component Builder, and Borland C++ Professional.


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