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
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
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
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.
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
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.