What Comes the Day After SCO Dies?

By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

February 11, 2005

Opinion: When SCO finally goes down in flames, what will happen to Linux and SCO's Unix products and IP? I have a few ideas and a lot of questions.

Some folks I know over at SCO are peeved that no one sees [ http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1759,1763785,00.asp ] that they won a victory in the latest clash in the SCO vs. IBM saga [ http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1759,1763661,00.asp ].

One such objector said, "If the whole world took everything that some people said as the gospel truth, then no, this wouldn't look very good for SCO. How they're able to take the judge's denial of all of IBM's Preliminary Summary Judgments [ http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20050209203941896 ] and say that this is an awful day for SCO is beyond me though. I wouldn't say that it was a win for either side, but it also wasn't a one-sided loss for SCO as some would have the world believe."

Yes, looked at from that point of view, it was a "victory." But there's a phrase for this kind: "Pyrrhic victory."

Pyrrhus, for those who were snoozing during history class, was a king of Epirus in Greece who fought with the Romans. He won several victories, but after the last one at Asculum, seeing how many men he had lost, he said, "One more victory like this will be the end of me."


When the judge doesn't close the case against you, but writes, "It is astonishing that SCO has not offered any competent evidence to create a disputed fact regarding whether IBM has infringed SCO's alleged copyrights through IBM's Linux activities"; and notes that there is a "vast disparity between SCO's public accusations and its actual evidence—or complete lack thereof," it's not much of a victory.

So, it is then that I started thinking about what might happen after SCO loses.

All SCO's copyright claims over Unix [ http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20050211071656463 ] are open to debate, even if you discount Novell's claims [ http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1759,1724744,00.asp ]. The courts will make the final call, but I don't expect SCO to end up with much of anything.

Still, SCO has some original work in OpenServer [ http://www.thechannelinsider.com/article2/0,1759,1629954,00.asp ] and UnixWare [ http://www.thechannelinsider.com/article2/0,1759,1612669,00.asp ] Unix variants, and some of it, like its SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) and OpenServer's incredible stability, is darn good. In addition, there are still quite a few resellers [ http://www.thechannelinsider.com/article2/0,1759,1662386,00.asp ] and their customers who rely on their products.

With Canopy, SCO's parent company, in disarray [ http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1759,1757174,00.asp ] with its former leadership fighting with its founder's family, I have a bad feeling that SCO won't survive at all.

Prior to the Canopy fight, and with its legal costs capped [ http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1759,1744963,00.asp ], I had assumed that the post-defeat SCO would slowly decline with support for its loyal customers as they gradually migrated away to Linux or Solaris on x86.

Now, now I'm not sure it will be able to do that. SCO could be here one day and gone the next, depending on what the courts decide.

What I think will happen is that someone—Novell? Sun?? IBM!! Microsoft!!?—will buy what Unix IP SCO is left with. As for its products… OpenServer and UnixWare's market share was in decline long before Linux started taking over the Unix world.

Still, someone, I think, will take them up. There's still money—as many a reseller can attest—in supporting these systems. But it won't be much money, and you certainly aren't going to see your income grow as time goes by. I suspect that one of the bigger SCO resellers will end up with SCO's two Unix operating systems.

Were HP not in an uproar, I'd think that company might make a good buyer for these operating systems. It's not well known but HP, via Compaq, has a long relationship with SCO and its Unix products. With Carly out, though, I think that's out of the question.

Novell, which had strong ties with SCO, and certainly knows about the problem of moving customers from older operating systems to Linux, might also make a good buyer for SCO's operating systems. And, since Novell is in the area, it would also make a natural employer for displaced SCO employees.

One thing though is for certain. It's time to start thinking about a post-SCO world. It may still be years away, for the mills of justice grind very slowly, but the day will come.

Oh, and as for Linux? Hello, Mr. Gates, your worst nightmare is coming true. After burying all your opposition, you've got a real operating system competitor on your hands again.

eWEEK.com Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been working and writing about technology and business since the late '80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.

Copyright 2005