Legal squabbles over Linux demonstrate its strategic significance but do businesses no favours, says Simon Moores.
I’ve kept deliberately silent till now about the legal squabble between SCO (The Santa Cruz Operation) and just about everyone else other than Microsoft over Linux and who owns the rights to the code contained therein – allegedly.
After all, litigation stories are not everyone's cup of tea, and there's always the worry that the website editor will censor my comments for fear I've trodden on the wrong toes.
Now – not content to fight its corner against IBM, Red Hat and most of the Penguin-fancying world – SCO plans to frustrate Novell's purchase of SuSE, alleging (that word again!) that this would put it in violation of a much older non-competitive agreement, signed in 1995, between Novell and SCO as part of their Unix System V software agreement.
At the time, Novell was casting around for answers, any answers to the looming inevitability of Windows NT, parked, like the Star Wars' Death Star, right across its corporate parking lot in Utah. Unix seemed like a good idea at the time as it revealed the weaknesses in Microsoft’s network operating system ambitions as it started its march off the desktop and into the enterprise.
Today, Novell has one real chance for survival and that lies with Linux. The Netware, upon which it built its business, represents the law of diminishing returns and Linux is becoming fashionable in all the right places, particularly the poorer sectors of the market where customers are still hanging on to Netware because they can’t afford the costs of a Windows migration. In this respect, one might describe Novell’s acquisition of SuSe as either an upgrade path or a lifeline to its customers.
If SCO stops the deal going through on the basis that a Novell/SuSe Linux competes with its own Unix-based products, this is only going to further hurt everyone involved in bringing Linux into the mainstream.
Already, the IBM and Red Hat involvement is causing a level of nervousness among enterprise customers. After all, when you buy your software, you want to know who owns what and where the responsibility stops, which has always been a problem with Linux and one that had only been recently resolved before the SCO action appeared on the scene.
The action leaves Novell with a stark choice. Fight SCO through the courts and shelve progress until a decision is made, which could take years if we use the example of Microsoft and Sun Microsystems fighting over Java as an example. Alternatively, pay SCO off because like Novell, SCO is also looking at an uncertain future, built very much upon Unix in a world that is adopting Linux rapidly.
All the legal activity around Linux has put the dampers on SCO and, from where I sit, its best potential revenue stream may come from settlements with the likes of Novell and IBM. Either way, Linux loses until the matter of ownership and non-competitive activity is resolved and Microsoft enjoys a valuable breathing space while it considers how best to react to the potential loss of markets such as South-east Asia, Germany and Brazil to the Penguin invasion.
Meanwhile, although it’s good to see the strategic importance of Linux reflected in a series of messy legal actions, it doesn’t do business any favours and while IBM, Red Hat and Novell tag wrestle with SCO, the rest of us are left wondering how such large companies can behave like so many small children.
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Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.
Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies and specialises in the areas of eGovernment and information security.
For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services visit www.zentelligence.com
This was first published in November 2003