SCO claims users of Linux products containing the most recent Linux 2.4 and Linux 2.5 kernels need to buy a SCO licence to avoid infringing its intellectual property rights.
The software company claims the Linux 2.4 and Linux 2.5 kernels contain files of code misappropriated from its proprietary System V Unix operating system.
UK analysts and users have said the licences are overpriced and that users would be unlikely to pay without strong evidence from SCO, which has yet to prove its claims in a court of law.
Bloor analyst Tony Lock said SCO had shot itself in the foot by coming out with such an expensive licensing model, deterring users who may have paid up had the cost been more marginal.
“It looks very expensive to me. Users would need a very good reason to pay up. If SCO was looking for a quick return then this has deflected it,” Lock said.
Ben Booth, group IT director at market research firm Mori, thought SCO was “trying it on”.
“It looks a bit like the old ‘stiffing’ approach to me where users act in good faith and then get stung with an extra charge. It’s a trick we’ve grown accustomed to from software suppliers,” he said.
Booth is not against the idea of paying fees up front to use open-source products, however. He suggested it could be a sign of the software’s growing maturity.
“The Nirvana of shareware is nonsense in the real world,” he said. However, given the lack of evidence, he sees no reason why payments should be made to SCO.
“Slapping users with a retrospective bill like this is ridiculous,” said Richard Holford, head of IT at the British Film Institute (BFI), who called SCO’s pricing model “ludicrous”.
The BFI decided not to deploy Linux during its last IT overhaul believing it was too risky. Holford is now pleased about that decision.
“An unplanned, unbudgeted cost like this would cause us huge problems - we just wouldn’t be able to afford it,” he said.
Robin Carsberg, the former president of the local government IT directors organisation SOCITM, also criticised SCO’s tactic of targeting users who had implemented Linux in good faith with an unforeseen, retrospective penalty.
“I think it’s outrageous. The users can’t be expected to have known the code is there. SCO is taking the users to the cleaners,” said Carsberg.
The move could hit public sector organisations operating on tight budgets, he warned. In July 2002, public sector bodies were told by the government to look more closely at adopting open-source products.
Users who buy one of SCO’s licences before 15 October will pay $699 (£432) for a single CPU system, rising to $1,399 (£834) thereafter. SCO is also set to release pricing models for multiple CPU systems, single CPU add-ons, desktop systems and embedded systems.
Bloor’s Tony Lock advised users to dust off their contracts, read the fine print and get their Linux suppliers to tell them - preferably in writing - what they will do if SCO wins its case.
“The time to do nothing has passed,” he said.