A computer user group has begun lobbying the US Congress to ignore arguments against open-source software made by Unix supplier The SCO Group.
In an interesting twist, both a Microsoft research engineer and a former Microsoft computer executive have contributed to the effort.
The Usenix Association, a 6,000-member non-profit association of technical computer users based in Berkeley, California, published an open letter refuting many of the arguments SCO had been making to Congress, including one that claimed Linux and open-source software ran contrary to US interests.
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Usenix intends to send the letter to members of Congress and to a number of committees, caucuses and leadership organisations in Washington DC, according to association spokeswoman Wendy Grubow.
The Usenix statement was written after a letter that SCO had been circulating to Congress last month was published on the website of lobbying organisation the Open Source and Industry Alliance, said Marshall Kirk McKusick, the president of Usenix's board of directors.
SCO has been involved in a highly publicised dispute with the open-source software community over SCO's claims that the Linux operating system illegally contains code that belongs to the Unix supplier. These claims are at the heart of lawsuits filed in the past year between SCO and IBM, Red Hat and Novell.
SCO's letter, which was sent to the 535 members of the US Congress, called Linux and open-source software a threat to the security and economy of the US.
"Open Source software - available widely through the internet - has the potential to provide our nation's enemies or potential enemies with computing capabilities that are restricted by US law," the letter said, adding that Linux's GNU General Public Licence software licence was "in direct contradiction to US copyright law".
Usenix's response to SCO takes company to task on both points. "SCO's own programmers themselves use open-source computer software tools, so it is difficult to explain SCO's position except by noting its hypocrisy," the Usenix letter stated.
The letter also argued that the software licences have no effect on US security. "Intellectual property law is not the right place to impose restrictions on the use of computer programs abroad," the letter states. "That's what our export control laws do."
The Usenix board had discussed the idea of taking on SCO in the past, but had not taken action before SCO's January letter, said McKusick.
"The thing that got our ire going in the letter to Congress was this notion that open source is dangerous to our economy and dangerous to IP rights, and that somehow Congress ought to prevent this," he said.
The Usenix membership would suffer if Congress moved to restrict the use of open-source software, said McKusick, himself a key contributor to the open-source Berkeley Software Distribution operating system.
"We want our constituency to have as much choice as possible. By somehow implying that open-source software is bad and should be stomped on, that narrows the set of choices our members have to draw on."
The issue prompted a response even from Usenix members affiliated with Microsoft, which has opposed the open-source methodology. The first draft of the association's letter was written by board member Michael Jones, who is also a researcher at Microsoft's Systems and Networking Research Group.
A subsequent draft was written by Dan Geer, a former chief technology officer with @Stake, who had to leave the company after participating in a study which suggested that Microsoft's monopoly was bad for computer security.
"The Usenix Board believes that people should be free to enter whatever contracts they chose, including all forms of software licences," said Jones.
"I can't speak for Microsoft, but I believe you'll find press releases on our website saying that Microsoft believes that customers do and will choose to purchase our software exactly when it is the best value proposition to meet their needs."
SCO spokesman Blake Stowell had no comment on the matter, other than to say that SCO stood by the claims it made in its letter to Congress.
The Usenix letter can be found at http://www.usenix.org/about/sco_html.html
Robert McMillan writes for IDG News Service