The SCO Group has confirmed that for now, Linux users outside of the Fortune 1000 index cannot buy its software licence offered to protect themselves against legal action.
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"We're trying to execute on this licensing plan by really starting to deal with the very top players and working our way down," said SCO spokesman Blake Stowell.
"After the company has rolled this out to the Fortune 1000 and we're satisfied with how the programme is going ... we'll then roll it down to small to medium businesses."
SCO has asserted that the Linux source code contains a number of violations of its Unix intellectual property (IP) rights, although Linux advocates have hotly disputed the validity of the evidence it has presented so far. The company announced its intellectual property licence for Linux in August, saying that inux users must buy the $699 licence to avoid violating SCO's Unix IP rights.
Until yesterday, SCO had not indicated that its Linux licensing plan is available only to the Fortune 1000, a term generally used to denote the world's 1,000 largest corporations. "We didn't articulate that at the time, and probably should have," Stowell admitted.
One Linux user who had been trying to purchase a SCO licence since August said he became frustrated by SCO's actions.
"It would have been easier for me if they had said something about that when I had first called them," said Drew Streib, vice president of operations with Permisoft, a San Francisco-based software company which sells Linux-based application servers.
Streib, who considers himself a Linux advocate and said he probably would have purchased only one Linux licence from SCO, expressed concern that SCO might consider his company legally liable for its Linux use even though he is unable to buy the licence.
Linux users should not be concerned about SCO lawsuits being launched without warning, Stowell claimed. "I don't think that any company is going to see a lawsuit rolled out to them that hasn't been given an honest and fair chance to purchase a licence."
He advised small and medium-sized businesses interested in the Linux licence to wait for SCO to contact them. However, customers contacting SCO before the 1 November deadline will be eligible for the $699 per processor rate even if they are unable to purchase the licence by that date.
Streib said he would like to see that in writing.
"Where's my letter saying, 'Thank you for talking to us, when we're ready to sell this to you you'll get it at the discounted rate and, by the way, we're not going to sue you?'" he asked.
SCO may be proceeding cautiously with licensing sales for fear of litigation from entities such as the Free Software Foundation, which has intellectual property claims to Linux, said IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky.
"As soon as they sell the first one, litigation will be started from all quarters," he predicted. "I think the people from the SCO Group realised that if they opened that box, they'd never be able to close it again."
One SCO reseller said the decision to leave smaller businesses out of the licensing programme will have little effect on his business. Most small businesses running Linux would not purchase SCO's licence anyway, said Tony Lawrence, owner of AP Lawrence, a consulting firm based in Massachusetts.
"I think the chances of collecting from small businesses are very small, because they have very little to lose," he said. "They don't necessarily know whether they have SCO or Linux. The only time they care about their computer is when it crashes."
Robert McMillan writes for IDG News Service