SCO Shows Code

Software vendor tries to make its case that Linux violates its rights to license Unix.
The SCO Group Inc. is beginning to put its code where its mouth is. The operating system and network-management software maker said Wednesday that it has begun showing industry analysts proof that portions of the Unix source code have been incorporated into the development of the Linux operating system. SCO Group says this alleged code misappropriation violates its right to license Unix, which it says it purchased from Novell in 1995.

There have been "dozens" of requests to by customers, analysts, individual Linux developers, and journalists to see firsthand the validity of SCO Group's claims, a company spokesman says. So far, SCO Group has made the offer to show the code only to analysts, but the company plans to continue showing its evidence to interested parties who sign a nondisclosure agreement during the rest of the month. The NDA prevents those who view the software from identifying the specific lines of code in question or describing the code's place in the Linux operating system, but it allows them to share their impressions on the validity of SCO Group's claims.

Neither Red Hat Inc. nor SuSE Linux AG, two of the top Linux distributors, has requested to verify SCO Group's claims. "As of yet none of those companies has approached us," the SCO Group spokesman says. SCO Group plans to let individual Linux developers see its evidence on a case-by-case basis. "We have to trust them," the spokesman says.

SCO Group in March sued IBM for $1 billion, alleging that IBM leaked SCO Group's proprietary Unix technology to the open-source community for the purpose of further developing Linux. According to the suit, IBM "breached" its licensing agreement with SCO for the Unix that's used as part of IBM's AIX operating system, and it also "induced and encouraged others to breach their obligations to SCO." IBM has said that it neither breached an agreement with SCO Group nor was approached by SCO Group on this matter before the lawsuit.

SuSE Linux, one of the SCO Group's partners in UnitedLinux, says that SCO Group has sent mixed messages with its lawsuit against IBM, its threatening letters to nearly 1,500 Linux users, and its resignation from German software group Linuxtag. SCO Group first positioned its case against IBM as an infringement against SCO's intellectual property, but lately it has been saying the case is more about a breach of contract, says a SuSE spokesman. SuSE's hope is that SCO Group's problem with Linux can be quickly understood and dealt with. Still, SuSE doesn't plan to get involved in the code scrutiny. "SuSE hasn't signed (an NDA) nor do we intend to," the SuSE spokesman says.

Some analysts are skeptical as to how much SCO Group can prove by peeling back the covers on its code. "Looking at the code wouldn't prove anything to me," says Dan Kusnetzky, VP of system software research at IDC. Kusnetzky says SCO Group offered him the chance to check out the code under the NDA, but he turned them down because of his busy schedule.

"They would have to show that code is their (intellectual property), and that's not clear," says Kusnetzky, who questions the timing of SCO Group's claim that Linux violates the company's Unix license. SCO Group itself has been distributing Linux. "Have you not potentially damaged your own case by distributing the source code under" (general public license?

In the meantime, most of SuSE's customers have expressed concern over how SCO Group's legal proceedings will affect the Linux market, the SuSE spokesman says. "It's a five-minute conversation, and then we move on," he says. "Once the code (in question) is exposed, it's not going to take the open-source community long to replace."

And there are questions about SCO Group's core premise: that it owns the rights to Unix. Novell chairman and CEO Jack Messman last week issued a letter challenging SCO Group's assertion that it owns the copyrights and patents to Unix System V, pointing out that the asset-purchase agreement entered into between Novell and SCO in 1995 did not transfer these rights to SCO Group.

Novell admits that Unix ownership is a complex issue, given the various flavors that exist and the number of times the keys to the code have changed hands. "We've been careful not to make a statement as to who owns Unix," says a Novell spokesman. "We've limited our statements to the (1995) agreement signed with SCO."

According to a Form 10-K405 that SCO Group, then Santa Cruz Operation Inc., filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in December 1996, SCO Group in December 1995 acquired the UnixWare and Unix System V Release 4 source-license business from Novell. SCO Group bought "certain assets related to the Unix business including the core intellectual property from Novell."

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