Linux users split on indemnification issue

IT users are divided on whether new legal indemnification programs from major suppliers such as Sun Microsystems, Novell,...

IT users are divided on whether new legal indemnification programs from major suppliers such as Sun Microsystems, Novell, Hewlett-Packard and SuSE Linux will fuel a wider adoption of Linux within their businesses.

A sample of users questioned about the issue at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in New York, said the expanded indemnification programs make them more comfortable with Linux. But they said other factors remain to be addressed inside their companies before they can decide how to proceed. 

Rudy Ebisch, assistant technical support director for core systems in the IT division of Canon USA, said legal concerns are definitely a factor as his company eyes Linux as a possible alternative in a migration from multiple operating systems. 

"That's the number-one question my general manager asked when I was coming here," Ebisch said.

So far, Canon is trying out the open-source operating system only in small ways, including experiments with network monitoring tools. But as major suppliers, including Hewlett-Packard, Novell and Oracle, adopt Linux strategies, Canon's options continue to expand. 

"It makes it legitimate," said Ebisch. "I'm not taking the risk I would have a year ago."  

For Canon, though, any move to Linux will be slow as the company is looking more so much for long-term security than cost reductions. The company, which has deployments of Novell NetWare, IBM AIX, HP-UX and Windows NT on several hardware platforms, would be more likely consider Linux as a replacement for one of the existing systems instead of adding it to the mix, he said. 

Richard Teasdale, a Unix administrator for a US insurance company that he asked not to be named, said indemnification programs "make it more palatable" to consider Linux.

"I don't think it's a make-or-break issue," he said. "We're looking at it. We're under tremendous pressure to reduce costs so we're looking at every way ... and Linux is one of them." 

Colt Jackson, a systems engineer at CareFirst, a health care insurance company, said IT planning in the insurance industry moves at a conservative pace. As a result, indemnification programs are helpful, but are unlikely to trigger a mass migration by insurance firms. 

"They definitely want to limit risks," he said

Another user, an enterprise architect at a financial services company who asked to remain anonymous, said indemnification is  meaningful.

"It actually is something we were really concerned about. We were in the process of putting together a position paper on Linux when the [SCO] lawsuit hit, and we put it on hold," he said. "But to have companies step to the plate and say they're having indemnification programmes meant they were acknowledging and dealing with the problem." 

Questions remain, though. "We're not coming away from this with any big reasons not to [move to Linux," said the enterprise architect. But because it could take years for legal issues to be resolved, "it's important for the companies that believe in their [Linux] products to back them up with indemnification," he added. 

Alex Drought, head of technology for film editing workers at Blue Sky Studios, a unit of Fox Filmed Entertainment, said indemnification means little in his business, where film studios can quickly turn to other operating systems such as Apple's Mac OS X in the event of legal problems such as the SCO lawsuit. 

However, he did appreciate the situation faced by financial services and insurance companies, where a quick change is impossible because of the depth of their IT integration and architectures. "They cannot turn on a dime if things change overnight," he said. "They would really be in a tough position." 

On Monday, Red Hat said it will offer a program that it calls the Open Source Assurance Program to protect all existing and future Red Hat Enterprise Linux customers from legal challenges as long as they're using the software. Red Hat's move comes on the heels of last week's decision by Novell to indemnify SuSE Linux customers against possible legal action from SCO. 

In its lawsuit, SCO alleges that IBM contributed some of SCO's System V Unix code illegally to the open-source Linux project. Additional suits and countersuits have been filed by Red Hat and Novell since the case began.

Todd R Weiss writes for Computerworld

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