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  Linux Letter 25

The Linux Letter for September 8, 2003

Welcome to another in a series of (very infrequent) Linux Letters!  No excuses this time, let’s get straight to the news!

Linux is under attack again, this time by SCO, the company formerly known as Caldera.  In what seems to be the oddest legal scheming in a long time, SCO claims that IBM misappropriated SCO code and contributed it to the Linux kernel.  What started out as “hundreds” of lines of code have morphed into “thousands” and now “millions”.  SCO apparently believes that most of the code for symmetrical multiprocessing and non-uniform memory architecture (SMP and NUMA, respectively) actually belongs to SCO, based on the premise that any code developed for UNIX (as licensed from SCO) automatically belongs to SCO.

The code in question was allegedly developed by IBM for Big Blue’s AIX operating system, a UNIX variant that was derived from SCO’s UNIX, under license from SCO.  SCO claims that the code was lifted, line for line, from code that they own.  But IBM disputes this on two points: the code that they created for Linux was done in isolation from any AIX development and any code that they produce does not automatically belong to SCO.

SCO’s initial response was to revoke IBM’s license for AIX.  IBM responded by claiming that the terms of the license were irrevocable.  SCO’s next response was to sue IBM for the princely sum of three billion dollars.  It would appear, though, that this case will not be tried until sometime in 2005.  Novell got into the act, claiming that when SCO bought the rights to UNIX, Novell retained the patents.  Then Microsoft purchased a license from SCO for UNIX, saying that they just wanted to be sure that in case any of their products violated SCO’s intellectual property rights, they would be legally covered.  SCO also claimed that another large company had purchased a license, but has not revealed the company’s identity.

In the meantime, SCO will not release any of the infringing code, but will allow third parties to examine it, upon acceptance of a non-disclosure agreement.  Unfortunately, that would taint any Linux developers, as well as prevent any meaningful reporting on SCO’s claims.

SCO is also offering licenses to Linux, starting at $699.00.  The licenses provide for a binary-only copy of the kernel and are not refundable in the event that SCO loses its suit against IBM.

Now, a couple fragments of code have been shown, with the SCO UNIX version in direct comparison to the Linux version.  According to Linux experts, particularly Richard Stallman, the code fragments that SCO has shown date back to at least the mid 1980’s and are from the public domain version of UNIX that preceded the version of UNIX that SCO claims rights to.

Other allegations from the Open Source community have popped up, including that SCO copied BSD code into their UNIX, but stripped the copyright notices.  Also, one of SCO’s supporting claims of copyright infringement is that the SMP and NUMA functionality of Linux could not have been implemented into a free operating system in such a short time (a few years at most) without copying the code from somewhere else.

Right now, the whole affair has become a media circus – SCO has even claimed that one of the measures of the success and viability of the company is the large number of press releases that it has made.  Much speculation has been made of the idea that perhaps SCO’s rationale for this tempest was to make it an attractive target for a takeover by IBM.  But at this point, IBM appears to have no interest in buying the company and the mass of publicity surrounding SCO has driven the stock price up to the point that the company isn’t a palatable target for anybody.  It has, however, generated plenty of revenue for a number of SCO’s officers from the sale of stock.

What does it mean for the average Linux user?  Not much, really.  Most desktop systems don’t make use of the code that SCO claims is infringed upon.  Are you in danger of a lawsuit from SCO?  Probably not.  SCO has said that it will not sue end users and it has said that it would.  But the possibility that an individual user of Linux would be sued is quite remote.  And, of course, if SCO’s case against IBM goes to court and SCO loses, then the point is moot.

Yet even if the SCO does prevail, Linux developers, from the bottom right up to Linux Torvalds say that it would be a matter of a few weeks or less to remove any infringing code and replace it with functionally equivalent, but original code, thus relieving the copyright issue.  In fact, it could be done now, but SCO will not reveal exactly which code they claim rights to.  So, it’s a waiting game.

Stay tuned!


Hot Tip of the Week

Do you use VNC to access your Linux computer from another system?  You may have been frustrated by a program that insists on running locally instead of on your VNC client window.  It's happened to me with a high end CAD program and with free software alike.  The problem may be that the program is hard coded to use the local display.  You can fix that by running the application from a terminal in your VNC client window after you issue this command:

setenv DISPLAY <machine_name>:<VNC_server_number>

For example, if my Linux computer's name was mercury and I was connection to server 1 (the default VNC server), I would type:

setenv DISPLAY mercury:1

Then I would run the program by typing its command name from the terminal.  It's that easy!

If you haven't tried VNC yet, check it out at the RealVNC web site.  It's free!

Happy computing!

Drew Dunn


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The Power

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