[TUHS] Cringely on SCO vs. IBM

Kenneth Stailey kstailey at yahoo.com
Sat Jun 7 08:15:57 AEST 2003


Technician, Steal Thyself
SCO, Not IBM, May Have Put Unix Code Into Linux Instead?

By Robert X. Cringely

There is something about institutional memory, the way organizations do or
don't remember things. Covering IBM back in the Opel and Akers eras, I noticed
a very interesting thing about the way that company handled internal
information, which was through the use of plausible deniability.  There was a
difference at IBM between knowing something and having it be known that you
knew something.  So when an IBMer would say he didn't know a fact or the answer
to my question, it didn't always mean he lacked the information.  It could just
as easily have meant that he/she hadn't been BRIEFED on the information. 
Anything learned at the water cooler wasn't real.  I wonder, then, how they
handle institutional memory issues at SCO, our subject for the last couple
weeks, because reality seems not to even be involved.  Can it be that the very
crime SCO is accusing IBM of committing could have been done, instead, by SCO
itself?  I think so.

Remember, SCO is suing IBM for stealing bits of Unix and putting those bits
inside Linux.  How IBM is supposed to have done that remains a mystery, because
the only version of Linux that includes any IBM authorship claim is for the
S/390 mainframes, and even that wasn't written by IBM.  According to folks who
did the work, it was done under contract to IBM by SuSE Linux AG, the German
Linux vendor. IBM provided the hardware and some access to IBM mainframe
engineers, but 98 percent of the work was done by SuSE. At Linuxworld 2000, IBM
didn't even help with the install or configuration of Linux on the S/390 they
loaned SuSE for the show.

Where, then, did IBM get those Unix parts it is supposed to have stolen?  They
certainly didn't come from IBM's version of Unix, AIX, which bears little
internal similarity to any other Unix.  I think the parts may have come from
SCO, itself.

Here is where institutional memory ought to come into play but doesn't seem to
be.  Remember that the motto of the combined Caldera and SCO was "Unifying Unix
with Linux for Business."  It is very possible that SCO's Linux team added
UnixWare and OpenServer code to Linux.  They then sent their Linux developers
to SuSE when United Linux was formed. Soon after that, CEO Ransom Love
departed.  Now the SCO management is scouring the UnixWare, OpenServer and
Linux code bases and says that they are finding cut-and-pasted code.  Chances
are that their former employees put it there.

"Open Unix 8 is the first step in implementing the vision of the pending new
company," said Ransom Love, president and CEO of Caldera Systems in a company
press release way back when.  "It combines the heritage of Unix with the
momentum of Linux, and will be our premiere product for data intensive
applications like database, email and supply chain management. The
incorporation of the Linux application engine into the UnixWare kernel
essentially redefines the direction of the product, and motivates a new brand
identity -- Open Unix."

But wait, there's more!  Here is what Ransom Love said to ZDNet around the same

ZDNet: What does the future hold for your unified Linux/Unix platform?

Love: "When we talk about unifying Unix and Linux, the two have a huge amount
in common.  A lot of people are running their businesses on Unix, while Linux
has a tremendous population on Web servers and other front-end servers.  So we
are taking both and combining them into one platform."

So SCO/Caldera spent two years "unifying" Unix and Linux and is now outraged to
find some of their intellectual property in Linux.  Well duh!  That's exactly
what they said they were going to do.

But does it even matter?  As I noted last week, Novell retained the Unix
patents and copyrights when it sold whatever it sold to SCO back in 1995.  The
best SCO can claim, given that Novell won't pursue a copyright or patent claim
against IBM, is that IBM is in violation of its Unix license agreement.

WHAT license agreement?

That SCO/Novell deal from 1995 gets murkier and murkier when you add in the
claims of The Open Group, a consortium that acquired the Unix trademark from
Novell at the same time SCO wasn't acquiring the Unix copyrights or patents. 
"IBM's ability to call AIX a Unix system is due to its license from The Open
Group," says the group's marketing vice-president Graham Bird.  "This license
requires IBM (and all other licensees) to warrant that it's certified products
conform with the Single Unix Specification.  So, SCO cannot yank IBM's right to
call their certified products Unix, I'm delighted to say."

If SCO doesn't own the copyrights or patents, and it doesn't even have a
sublicensing agreement with the organization that owns the trademark, what
rights could they possibly intend to deny IBM as of June 13th?"

Nobody really knows. 

There is an easy solution to this problem, one that I wouldn't be at all
surprised is in the works.  SCO is angling to be acquired by IBM in an
out-of-court settlement.  Certainly, IBM can afford to buy the Unix copyrights
and patents from Novell and I think Novell would sell them.  That would bring
everything but the Unix trademark under the same roof.  And I don't think IBM
really cares that much about the Unix trademark.  They care much more about the
Linux trademark.  So let's say IBM buys up all these rights for a few hundred
million dollars, then puts the whole package under the General Public License,
essentially making Unix into an Open Source product.

Why would IBM do something like that?  They'd do it to sell more computers.

People forget that IBM is mainly a hardware and services company. By putting
Unix under the GPL they would become heroes to the programmers and system
admins and end up selling even more hardware and services.  Remember, IBM
already invested $1 billion in Linux and claimed to have made that money back
within a year. Buying SCO and the Novell IP could be viewed as just the next
step of that very smart investment.

[...snip unrelated sections...]

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