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3/9/2004
12:37 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
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Don't Let SCO Litigation Slow You Down

Don't let courtroom kerfuffle dissuade you from using the best tools for the job, says InformationWeek Editor-in-Chief Bob Evans.

Last year, a couple of colleagues and I had an extended discussion with Randy Mott, Dell's CIO and the former CIO of Wal-Mart. In the course of our interview, the subject of Linux came up, and it was no surprise to hear Mott explain how bullish he is on the increasingly popular operating system, particularly as the Linux-on-Intel combination in systems such as Dell's continues to grow in performance and reliability while also declining in price. At one point, we asked if the potential legal liabilities swirling around Linux would slow the rate of acceptance of Linux on Intel at Dell, and/or among Dell's customers.

Now, Randy Mott is a guy whose tenures of more than three years at Dell and, before that, more than 20 at Wal-Mart give him almost-unmatched insights into the workings of large, high-growth, intensely IT-dependent global corporations. So this guy knows whereof he speaks when he talks about deploying new types of systems and architectures to drive internal scalability, efficiencies, speed, consistency, and ROI to enable customer intimacy, market agility, and profitability. And in that context, he didn't skip a beat before saying, in essence, that leading companies can't allow themselves to be hamstrung by what might happen in some legal battle or what might be decided in 18 months (or not decided).

Leaders, he said, have to lead--they have to act in the very clear self-interest of their companies and their customers. Sure, he added, it's a good idea to be aware of such entanglements and to give some thought to how they might play out, but don't let that awareness spread to fixation. Because if we allow ourselves to drift into paralysis over something like what might happen in lawsuits over Linux, we'll miss market opportunities, slow the pace of innovation and transformation, and give competitors a break that they surely haven't earned. Somebody in some courtroom somewhere will sort out the Linux stuff, Mott said, and after that, some minor adjustments might have to be made, but those won't be nearly significant enough to affect the business at hand: pushing forward with innovative business ideas and the underlying IT systems that support them. I couldn't help thinking about Randy's advice as I read and heard the accounts of the latest ambulance-chasing exploits of SCO Group CEO Darl McBride, who's now looking to extort tribute from companies that are using Linux. As reported last week by InformationWeek's Larry Greenemeier, SCO has filed suit alleging "...that auto-parts seller AutoZone Inc. is violating SCO's Unix copyrights by using Linux. Since last May's lawsuit against IBM, SCO has alleged that portions of its copyrighted Unix source code have been used to make Linux an enterprise-class operating system. The company is seeking unspecified damages as well as an injunction to keep AutoZone from using Linux in its IT environment." (See "SCO Sues AutoZone And DaimlerChrysler In Linux Fight", as well as "In SCO's Sights")

So what do you do--drop all your Linux initiatives? Seek out a systems supplier indemnifying its customers from SCO's mosquito cloud of litigation? Hire a few hundred lawyers (aaaahhhhhhh!!!) to scrutinize each line of code in all your Linux software so they can stamp it SCO-free? Switch to OS/2?

Or do you forge ahead with your business objectives, relegating this courtroom kerfuffle to the good folks in your legal department while you and your colleagues stay focused on finding and propagating the best tools and thinking and partnerships available to drive innovation throughout your organization?

Say it ain't so, SCO.

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