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3/2/2004
06:21 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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SCO Jumps The Shark

I'm pleased to see that a turn of phrase by my colleague Robert Preston is being picked up by the Linux user community. The SCO lawsuit has, Rob said, officially jumped the shark.

I'm pleased to see that a turn of phrase by my colleague Robert Preston is being picked up by the Linux user community. The SCO lawsuit has, Rob said, officially jumped the shark.

"Jumping the shark" is a phrase coined on a Web site about TV shows, it's a moment when a good TV show goes bad. It takes its name from an episode of "Happy Days" where Fonzie jumped over a pool of sharks on water-skis, wearing swim trunks and his trademark motorcycle jacket,

(Um, just to clarify, it was the Fonz who was on water-skis, and wearing the trunks and leathers. Not the sharks.)

I was pleased to see the phrase used in the comments section of the Weblog Groklaw.net, as the Groklaw community discussed SCO's statement that it will on Wednesday announce a lawsuit against a major Linux customer on charges that the customer violated SCO's Unix intellectual property. SCO already has lawsuits pending with IBM, Red Hat and Novell.

It's been a year since SCO filed the first of those lawsuits, against IBM on March 6, 2003. By one measure, SCO's legal action has been a ripping success, driving the company stock price from $2.26 per share on March 5, 2003 to close at $12.27 per share yesterday, March 1, 2004.

Early on, SCO won support from Microsoft and from Sun Microsystems; both companies agreed to license Unix source code from SCO. (At the time, Linux was a major threat to Sun's own Solaris operating system - indeed, Linux was more of a threat to Sun than it was to Microsoft, as Linux was robbing market share, not from Windows but from low-end Unix sales. But the past year has made a big difference, and Sun is now itself a major Linux vendor.)

That's the good news for SCO. But the rest of the news, for SCO, is all bad.

SCO has by no means demonstrated that it does, in fact, own significant intellectual property in Linux. Linux advocates have cast significant doubts on SCO's claims that Linux code comes from SCO-owned Unix; each time SCO cites an example, Linux advocates make credible arguments that the code comes from other software that SCO does not own.

SCO has yet to win a single significant court victory - indeed, it's suffered a couple of setbacks, most notably in Germany, where the company has been forbidden from seeking to collect payments from users, or advertising ownership of Linux intellectual property, until it first proves its ownership in court.

Here in America, SCO has been attempting to cash in on its lawsuit before winning, by selling licenses to users permitting those users to use Linux. But SCO hasn't had much luck with those sales; SCO on Monday announced the name of one company, EV1Servers.com, that picked up a license; the company is pretty much unknown and not likely to drum up much support among other users.

And that points to SCO's biggest immediate problem; the company has, quite simply, failed to convince users that it has a case. Users are shrugging off the threat of a lawsuit; in a study released Friday, IDC found revenue from Linux servers increased 63.1 percent year-over-year, with unit shipments increasing 52.5 percent.

SCO now says it plans to step up its legal action, filing a lawsuit on Wednesday against a well-known Linux user. Yet I can't see any way that action will make users take SCO seriously. At this point, SCO needs a significant win in court, and it needs that win soon, or it'll see itself dismissed as a significant threat.

So what should you, as an IT user, do? My best advice on that is the same as it was a year ago: Talk to your lawyer. My second-best advice is that you should keep a close eye on what SCO is doing, but don't change your Linux deployment plans on account of what have been, so far, empty threats. But I'm no legal expert. Talk to your lawyer.

P.S. Note this article from May, 2003: "SCO Chief Says There's No Plan To Sue Linux Users" I just think this article is interesting historically; here's SCO saying that it has no plans to do what it now says it's going to do.

(This piece appeared in the Linux Pipeline Newsletter for Tuesday, March 2, 2004. It has been edited for the web.)

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