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The jackals of IT

Jul 29, 20034 mins

* Backspin columnist Mark Gibbs shares his thoughts on SCO's hounding of IBM and the Linux world

The jackals of IT

You must have seen those documentaries about the African savanna where something like a water buffalo is hounded by jackals until it either drives them off or, exhausted, is overwhelmed and killed. Well, in the civilized world of IT you don’t expect to see the jackals show themselves quite so openly. That was until The SCO Group started hounding IBM and the Linux world.

On the face of it, SCO’s contention that IBM gave away code that belonged to SCO and consequently owes SCO $1 billion looks – as so many have pointed out – like a cheap ploy to get itself bought rather than continue to struggle to make a profit.

SCO went on to declare that, because IBM contributed code to Linux that contains SCO Unix intellectual property, commercial Linux customers could be legally liable for using the code. Of course SCO has yet to show the code in question so what we have here is a web of assertions, implications, bombast and threats.

Then SCO announced that Microsoft had licensed SCO’s Unix code and soon thereafter Sun signed up. Why? Because getting a place in the pack of jackals gives them both a role in trying to bring down Linux in particular and open source in general.

It gets better: Just last week SCO announced the company “is prepared to offer a license for SCO’s UnixWare 7.1.3 product for use in conjunction with any Linux product,” which means it is ready to start threatening large Linux users. You have to wonder at the sheer chutzpah of these guys.

I say chutzpah because even if SCO is right and IBM has given the open source world a hairy problem to deal with, for SCO to go after a huge group of users in a way that guarantees SCO will become public enemy No. 1 is beyond stupid.

Until SCO reveals all the code that it says proves intellectual property infringement we will have to wait and watch the slow dance of lawyers jockeying for position. In the meantime, the damage to open source and Linux is being done, slowly but surely.

This is a really important issue. The future of both open source and Linux is not something for a single vendor to control or manage. Linux is arguably the biggest leveling of the computing playing field we’ve ever seen.

There are two simple solutions: One, if SCO can be bought out then IBM should do so whether or not SCO has a case. The business opportunity offered by its acquisition can’t be that bad and to IBM the cost would be like a rounding error in the coffee fund.

And how about if IBM got all of the other Linux vendors to chip in – a few million here, a few million there and soon we’ll be talking real money. At the end of the exercise the group would own the intellectual property and it could finally, once and for all, be placed under the General Public License.

The other solution would be for every interested party to fight SCO. Everyone would need to adopt a “we’ll fight to the bitter end” position, and then let’s see how long SCO’s money lasts. On the other hand, the entire case – which from what I’ve read cannot ultimately be won by SCO – is unlikely to cost more than buying out the wretched company, so the first solution would be the least messy.

This isn’t an issue concerning everyday commercial rights. The wrong outcome – SCO prevailing and holding everyone that uses Linux commercially hostage – would not only destroy arguably the most profound and important computing direction since the appearance of the IBM PC, it also would give Microsoft a huge advantage in securing the future of its proprietary technologies.

Think Microsoft has a monopoly now? Just imagine how strong it would become without the threat of Linux! If the jackals win we’ll be stuck in the proprietary Dark Ages rather than transitioning to the Age of Open Source Enlightenment.

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Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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