SCO users divided over GPL

SCO developers at the company's annual user conference this week expressed dissatisfaction with SCO's public disparagement of the...

SCO developers at the company's annual user conference this week expressed dissatisfaction with SCO's public disparagement of the GNU General Public Licence.

SCO chief executive Darl McBride's opened the SCO Forum on Monday with comments that the GPL was "about destroying value", but apparently the firm sees some value in GPL-licensed software. McBride's keynote speech was followed by a presentation entitled "How to use the GNU toolkits," given by SCO engineer Kean Johnston.

SCO ships its own development kit with its Unixware and Openserver operating systems, called the UODK (Unixware/Openserver Development Kit), which includes the 150 pieces of open source software that make up the GCC (GNU C Compiler) development tool. The GCC is released under the GPL software licence.

"The UODK is a very capable compiler for our platforms," Johnston said. "However, there are certain advantages to using the GNU tools."

Developers at the presentation were more frank, saying that SCO was dependent upon the GNU tools, which are used and supported by a large community of developers and work with languages such as Fortran and Objective C, which are not supported by UODK.

Consultant Boyd Gerber said his development work depended on GNU tools. "With some of the Openserver tools, I just cannot do it without the GCC," he said.

SCO's image as a threat to Linux and the GPL has evaporated any goodwill towards Unixware or Openserver developers and made some open-source project leaders wary about accepting their code, developers said.  "Because of what they are doing with their suite, it is making it hard for me to contribute," said Gerber.

The backlash against SCO has even resulted in rumblings from some open-source developers that SCO's operating systems should no longer be supported in the GCC.

A "readme" file in the recently released GCC 3.3.1 contained the following message from the GCC's maintainers, the Free Software Foundation, "We have been urged to drop support for SCO Unix from this release of GCC as a protest against this irresponsible aggression against free software and GNU/Linux. However, the direct effect of this action would fall on users of GCC rather than on SCO.  For the moment, we have decided not to take that action."

Both Gerber and Anderson were unhappy with the increasing amount of anti-GPL rhetoric coming from McBride, who on Monday argued that open-source software and the GPL are bad for the entire technology industry.

Proprietary and open-source technologies can coexist, said Hans Anderson, director of software development at Price Data Systems. He argued that SCO copyright holders should have the right to release their code under the GPL if they choose. "It made me livid to hear him say that people can't give away what they want," he said, referring to McBride's keynote speech.

At one point, SCO's business model was based on selling the Linux operating system, which is released under the GPL. In 2000, after completing an initial public offering as a Linux supplier, the company, then called Caldera Systems, bought the software and professional services divisions of the proprietary Unix company, the Santa Cruz Operation (also known as SCO).

It acquired the Unixware and Openserver products, as well as the rights to the original AT&T Unix source code in the transaction. Caldera has since changed its name to SCO and ceased distribution of Linux except to customers with existing support contracts.

The firm's anti-GPL position may not sit well with SCO's developers, but resellers at the show applauded McBride's stance during his keynote. After the talk, many expressed concerns that free software would threaten their own products or erode profit margins.

"We as a reseller feel we want to protect our market," said Jay Davidow, a reseller with Profit Master Canada. "Giving away our software would not be a good business case."

The proprietary world would have created adequate alternatives to the GCC, had the free software not driven development tool companies out of that market, he said. "Companies did make developer tools, but where are they today? They do not exist."

Robert McMillan writes for IDG News Service

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