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Showdown At The SCO Corral

Businesses shouldn't let the SCO Group lawsuits against companies for allegedly violating its Unix copyrights stop them from advancing their own businesses, Michael Friedenberg says.

Can't you see it? A new version of the old Western movie is coming to a town near you. Entitled Showdown at the SCO Corral, this movie has the cast of characters assembled to create one of the most heated battles in the IT space in years.

In case you haven't seen the trailer to this film, let me give you a quick review. SCO is currently suing IBM, DaimlerChrysler, and AutoZone for violating SCO's Unix copyrights by using Linux. However, it has yet to be proven that SCO's intellectual property is part of the Linux operating system. So you now have companies being sued for possibly no reason whatsoever. Plus, there's passing innuendo that Microsoft may be funding SCO in its efforts. All the while, the lawyers are having a field day collecting gold from every party that's trying to protect themselves. Tell me this is not the perfect Western!

It's guaranteed to be scary, nasty, and vicious because this fight touches on a number of topics that are central to our way of capitalism: protection of intellectual property, drive for innovation, and customer loyalty. Don't get me wrong: If SCO's intellectual property has been stolen, then it has every right to fight for what legally belongs to it. However, that has yet to be proven, and it's certainly taking a very aggressive stance with limited ammunition right now.

On the flip side, how do you as an IT executive now go to your CEO and say that you might be getting a letter in the mail informing your company of pending litigation because you implemented Linux? Isn't this the same CEO that a few months ago came to you and said, "we need to cut the IT budget by x% and, although funds are tighter, I want more stability, scalability, and security than I am currently getting out of my current IT architecture?" Hmmm, sounds like a bit of selective memory going on but then again, since we're talking about the CEO, such selectivity is permitted! I guess you can plead ignorance, but that will work for about a second. Do you now delay use of Linux within your organization or do you continue to move full steam ahead on current projects? How can you risk slowing down the process of innovation and letting your competitors move on by? Be assured that customers won't wait for you to figure it out. With this type of market pressure, can you turn to your IT vendor partnerships for help?

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Last September, Hewlett-Packard saw this coming and moved to shield businesses from this legal concern by offering to indemnify its customers against potential SCO Group lawsuits. (See "HP's Big Bet") My guess is, as this gunfight heats up, this type of vendor backing will need to become standard practice. That's unfortunate, and while some think it's unfortunate that this whole situation has come to such a point, in this time of limited resources it sure would be comforting to know that business-technology executives can spend their time and focus on advancing the business rather than defending it.

I'm not sure how this movie is going to end. Players like HP, IBM, Microsoft, Novell, Oracle, and SCO will certainly make their stands known. My bet is that, similar to all successful Hollywood hits, there will be a number of sequels before we learn the true ending.

Let me know your thoughts on how this plays out within your company. Are you still moving ahead on Linux or pushing these projects aside until the dust clears? Send me a response at and in return I'll send you some of our recent business-technology research.

Michael Friedenberg is a VP at CMP Media and the publisher of InformationWeek.

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit the Talk Shop.

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