SCO Back on the Warpath

SCO backed up its threats with action, taking two enterprises to court over their use of Linux.

The SCO Group last week made good on a long-standing threat by suing not one but two enterprise users of Linux—in this case, German auto conglomerate DaimlerChrysler AG and automotive parts reseller AutoZone Inc.

If, as some Linux advocates have charged, SCO hopes to pressure companies into signing up for its SCO Intellectual Property for Linux license, it’s having mixed results: Commercial vendors, including EV1Servers and Computer Associates International Inc., may have purchased licenses, but many IT organizations seem unfazed by SCO’s actions. In fact, most users of Big Iron Linux with whom we spoke say their organizations have no plans to reconsider their use of Linux.

One, a mainframe operator with a state government agency, says his organization is in the midst of a scheduled migration of one of its systems from HP-UX to Big Iron Linux. Because his organization has imposed a firm deadline to complete its migration, he says, there’s little that SCO could do to change that. “The scheduled migration date is April 10… Nothing less than a catastrophic disaster will budge that,” he writes.

A mainframe operator with a large municipal government says that his organization remains committed to mainframe Linux. “It has not changed our stance here, at all, no. We are still moving forward,” he writes, conceding that his organization’s use of Big Iron Linux has proceeded “slowly,” largely as a result of “internal reasons.”

Admittedly, government agencies at the local, state, and federal levels probably have little to fear from SCO, at least as far as litigation is concerned. If SCO is going to target anybody, analysts say, it will most likely be a prominent enterprise user of Linux, such as DaimlerChrysler, or Bank of America (which some speculate was intended to be the original target of SCO’s suit).

“They’re going to find a company that is very risk-adverse, one that has a very visible brand so that people will recognize it, and then they’re going to hit it with pretty much everything they’ve got, send a message back to the community saying, ‘If we can do it to this brand, we can do it to you,’” predicted analyst and long-time industry watcher Rob Enderle in an interview last year.

To some extent, this has caused IT organizations in risk-averse market segments—such as the insurance industry—to shy away from Linux altogether.

“We aren't running any Linux in production here and if the SCO lawsuit is not resolved, we maybe never will,” said a mainframe operator with a prominent industrial insurance company last year. “I don't think we would consider a Linux license from SCO. We'd just choose to not run Linux.”

In fact, a survey of 100 CIOs by investment banking firm Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) late last year found that 73 percent had Linux implementation plans. Of these, 16 percent said that they had reconsidered their Linux deployment plans as a result of SCO’s litigation.

In spite of its tremendous growth, many of the enterprise IT organizations that have deployed Linux, particularly Big Iron Linux, have done so in a limited fashion. For that very reason, some of the mainframe professionals with whom we spoke argue that their use of Linux isn’t sensational enough to make them attractive targets for a headline-conscious SCO. “We are running such a minimal number [of] Linux instances … that I don't think SCO would be too concerned with us,” says a mainframe professional with a global supplier of cleaning and sanitation products. Several other mainframe users of Linux, many of whom are still experimenting with the technology, echoed this perspective.

What Was SCO Thinking?

SCO’s high-profile legal clashes with IBM, Red Hat, and others have paid dividends in the form of front-page headlines, and, for a while, a resurgent stock price. But a mainframe technologist with a prominent global services vendor points out that SCO’s decision to tango with Fortune 100 mainstays such as IBM and DaimlerChrysler also has a very real downside to it.

“DaimlerChrysler is a very large company, and probably has more lawyers than SCO has employees. The fact that [DaimlerChrysler] didn't even feel it necessary to respond in any way to SCO's demand for certification back in December tells me they don't think much of SCO's claims,” he points out. “If anyone in SCO had studied history at all, they'd know better than to open up too many ‘fronts’ in this war.”

This mainframe technologist outlines a scenario in which SCO is stretched to its breaking point by the array of legal resources that IBM, DaimlerChrysler, and AutoZone can bring to bear against it, including—but not limited to—the serial depositions that will almost certainly be required of SCO’s executives and technicians. “How long can SCO withstand not having any leadership available, as opposed to just bad leadership?” he wonders.

Charles King, a research director with analyst firm The Sageza Group Inc., concurs. “I’d agree with that completely. Frankly, by going after companies like Chrysler and AutoZone, they’re almost assuring a legal counteroffensive. If I was one of these companies, my first order of business would have been to call legal and get the lawyers together to draft a countersuit,” he comments.

King says that he’s not persuaded SCO’s suits against DaimlerChrysler and AutoZone have any merit, especially because the company’s intellectual property case against IBM—on which both suits depend—is far from over. “They’re claiming ownership of something that’s really based on the whole intellectual property case with IBM, and at this point, it’s not even certain that the judge who’s hearing the case against IBM will allow the trial to proceed,” he comments.

Last week, U.S. Magistrate Brooke C. Wells ordered both IBM and SCO to reveal source code to one another. Although SCO provided IBM with its Unix System V source code, along with some evidence of the code misappropriations that it has alleged, the embattled vendor has refused to provide Big Blue with complete and specific evidence of code misappropriation. To that end, Wells ordered SCO to disclose the specific lines of code that it alleges IBM dropped into Linux from AIX or Dynix. Wells also ordered SCO to identify “with specificity all lines of code in Linux that it claims rights to,” and gave the embattled vendor 45 days to comply.

SCO, for its part, got access to the source code for 232 AIX files, but Wells ruled that if SCO wants to see more of the AIX code, it must demonstrate how the additional files are relevant to its case.

Based on what he’s seen so far, King suggests that “SCO has no legal basis for selling these licenses. It’s the IT equivalent of selling real estate on Mars. You’re basically selling the rights to something that you don’t own.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.