FAQ on Unix, SCO and Microsoft
By Scott Ard
The computing landscape was jolted late Sunday with the announcement that Microsoft will be licensing Unix from SCO. These are some questions and answers to help sort out the significance of the pact.
Why is Microsoft's decision to license Unix from SCO Group so important?
Many companies defend their intellectual property and seek licensing fees, but not all are successful. Getting a large and influential company such as Microsoft to license Unix may lead others to follow.
So, SCO gets some additional revenue. What's the news?
In this case, the impact goes well beyond a few dollars changing hands. Microsoft considers Linux to be a major threat, because it is freely available and it has legions of developers actively improving it. By agreeing to license Unix, Microsoft is sending the message that SCO's copyright claims have merit.
How will this move affect customers?
That's the key question. Microsoft's move will likely force information technology managers to think twice about using Linux until the legal questions are sorted out. For example, if a large company has decided to adopt Linux partially because of its low cost, the possibility that it will now have to pay royalties could upset that equation. Fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) are certainly at work here.
So, even if SCO's licensing demands later prove to be baseless, Microsoft could still reap the rewards of an unsettled market?
How did SCO acquire the Unix code?
The history of Unix is long and twisted. It was invented more than 30 years ago by AT&T's Unix Systems Laboratories. AT&T later sold the Unix intellectual property to Novell, which in turn sold it to the Santa Cruz Operation.
Caldera International, a seller of Linux, then acquired from SCO the Unix rights and two SCO products, OpenServer and UnixWare. Last year, Caldera changed its name to SCO Group to reflect the fact that most of its revenue came from its SCO business and not from the Linux products.
What makes SCO so certain that parts of Unix have been incorporated into Linux?
SCO says it hired several consultants to compare the source codes of the two operating systems, and claims that bits of Unix have been essentially copied and pasted into Linux. The company which hasn't yet detailed its findings, says it will keep the evidence under wraps until the case with IBM reaches open court.
Why attack IBM?
Big Blue has been a major backer of Linux, having poured an estimated $1 billion into an effort to promote its use by major corporations and governments. By singling out IBM, SCO can focus its legal energies on a single foe--and if it's victorious, other companies will likely tumble like dominoes. SCO also has a relationship with IBM that sets it apart from other Linux distributors. The two were involved in a failed partnership called Project Monterey under which IBM, SCO and now-extinct Sequent agreed to create a version of Unix for Intel's Itanium processors. SCO shared expertise with IBM about how best to run Unix on Intel processors for that project, according to its suit.
When did SCO decide to pursue this strategy?
This is the basic chronology: SCO in January announced SCOsource, a strategy to more aggressively seek licensing revenue from the Unix intellectual property that the company owns. In March it filed suit against IBM, and last week SCO sent letters to hundreds of corporations warning them that their use of Linux may infringe on SCO's intellectual property.
Look for other companies to follow Microsoft's actions and for feedback from major IT buyers about whether their plans for Linux are being reviewed. As for IBM, SCO has threatened to revoke Big Blue's Unix license, starting June 13.
CNET News.com's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.