The SCO Boomerang and the Strength of Linux

By Pamela Jones

CIO Today

April 15, 2005

As a result of the SCO litigation, the community has bonded more tightly than ever, and showed that it will support Linux and free and open-source software and any company that stands up for it. That is how Groklaw was born.

Back in March of 2003, when SCO Group first brought its suit against IBM for, we thought, copyright infringement related to code IBM supposedly donated to Linux, the whole world thought it might be the death of Linux. Even those who didn't think so certainly believed the litigation was at least about Linux.

Two years later, and counting, there still is no indication from SCO what code it is precisely talking about, and any link to Linux seems to be getting weaker and weaker [ ]. The code SCO offered to the court so far as infringing materials was rejected as being not credible evidence [ ] of copyright infringement.

So, where are we now in the SCO v. the World litigation? Most observers now seem to view the case as more about a contract dispute, and the latest SCO claim it wishes to add to its complaint seems to be about AIX code on the Power architecture, which absolutely has no relationship to Linux. So what happened to SCO's Linux copyright infringement claims?

What Ought To Happen

While it's unwise to predict outcomes in legal disputes beyond what ought to happen, the market already has reached its own conclusion, which is that in the enterprise, most folks just don't care how it turns out. They want to switch to Linux and they are.

Linux is growing by leaps and bounds. If Microsoft's anti-Linux campaign got one thing right, it's when it said it was like "a cancer" -- only not the way they meant it. It was trying to say something mean, and inaccurate, about the GPL, the license under which Linux is made available. But in reality, Linux really does seem to be growing at an unstoppable pace.

I believe the SCO case, while designed to slow Linux adoption, actually might have encouraged it. I call it the SCO Boomerang.

I think there are several reasons for seeing real benefits coming from the otherwise painful and, in my opinion, unnecessary, litigation, and I know I'm not alone in this view. Before I share the benefits that have accrued, let me share some reasons I think the boomerang happened:

Recent figures on Linux adoption show an upward trajectory that continues to defy predictions. Note this December IDC prediction [ ] about what it calls the Linux "cash cow":

For a theoretically free operating system, Linux is -- and will continue to be -- a cash cow, a research firm said Wednesday as it predicted the OS will bring in more than $35 billion in revenues by 2008. Framingham, Mass.-based IDC said that overall revenue for servers, desktops, and packaged software running on Linux will reach $35.7 billion in the next four years. Currently, IDC pegs Linux's global total take at just under $15 billion.

The numbers are higher than earlier estimates by most analysts, in part, said IDC, because it changed it methodology to account for not just Linux on new hardware, but also Linux that's redeployed on existing hardware, and even cases when the open-source OS is used as a guest operating system, such as in a server partitioned with virtualization software to run multiple OSes.

"This is the first authoritative and comprehensive snapshot of how people truly use Linux," claimed Stuart Cohen, the chief executive officer of the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL), a Beaverton, Ore.-based Linux advocacy group that funded IDC's analysis of data the research firm collected earlier. "It's not surprising to see that the adoption is far ahead of even some of the most optimistic estimates," Cohen added in a statement.

The number of financial institutions using GNU/Linux systems in the last 12 months grew [ ] from 27 percent in 2004 to 58 percent in 2005, and you know they tend to be trend setters.

Of course, on the server, Linux continues to explode. Linux server shipments are growing at a rate of 40 percent, according to IDC. HP's Efrain Rovira has been quoted [ ] as saying that customers are turning to blades for their server needs and "more than 50% are running on Linux." IBM's Linux revenue year-to-year grew 52 percent in the third quarter of 2004, making IBM the top worldwide Linux-based server vendor in revenue for the quarter. One billion in Linux revenue last year isn't chicken liver.

Appeal of Linux

Linux works beautifully in superclusters too. It works in the embedded space. Frankly, it works on anything for almost anything, particularly since the release of the 2.6 kernel [ ]. IBM has introduced a new 64-bit Power5 processor-based system, OpenPower, which runs Linux. Linus Torvalds has switched to a PowerPC system.

The appeal of Linux and Power5 is that it brings out Linux's virtualization capabilities. Running multiple virtual sessions on large-scale Linux systems can provide "breakthrough price performance to the corporate data center," according to Novell's Greg Mancusi-Ungaro [ ].

One of the last areas where Linux had shown little penetration, in ERP applications, is now showing growth. Pharma Nord, HP, IBM, Veritas, SAP AG and Oracle all have made moves to enable Linux in this space. As a result, Peerstone Group predicts that the percentage of ERP applications -- Compiere is one such open-source ERP system that runs on Linux -- on GNU/Linux systems will increase [ ] from 2 percent in 2004 to 15 percent in 2007.

Some have expressed worries that they will have trouble finding Linux-trained employees. But recently, when Microsoft's "lieutenant" in charge of its anti-Linux campaign, Martin Taylor, was interviewed on how they research Linux and get support for it, he admitted they just call up employment agencies and hire people.

Obviously, any other business can do the same. In any case, Red Hat has recently trained 100,000 in 2004, worldwide, and the company is training even more in 2005. Many businesses might find they already have plenty of trained employees, if they just ask. Techies tend to fall in love with GNU/Linux on their own time, but you won't know it if you don't inquire.

More and more, people understand the lesson of the Internet, that there are some things that are better when they are standardized. Proprietary software, as epitomized by Microsoft, has obvious drawbacks -- from security issues to license fees -- that you don't face with Linux. Plus, there is the dependence on a single vendor and its whims regarding support. Clearly, Linux has arrived in the mainstream.

Benefits of SCO Litigation

So, it's clear that the SCO bullying didn't work, but did it backfire? I think it did, and here's a brief list of the benefits that I see as having come out of the battle.

The General Public License (GPL) held its own in court, shutting the mouths, one might expect, of all the naysayers who for years claimed it would fail on its first real court challenge. It not only held its own, it led to a SCO rout, with SCO at first loudly proclaiming it was unconstitutional, and later -- after IBM brought a counterclaim based on SCO violating the GPL and hence being guilty of copyright infringement of IBM's GPL'd code in Linux by continuing to distribute the code -- wrapping itself in the GPL flag, and meekly proclaiming that they had never repudiated it but had always abided by it.

The community bonded more tightly than ever, and showed that it will support Linux and free and open-source software and any company that stands up for it. That is how Groklaw was born. In the future, we hope to continue to work together as a community, using our accumulated brainpower for further useful tasks, such as prior art searches to overturn, hopefully, any improperly granted software patents threatening GNU/Linux. We hope that will help in what virtually everyone sees as one aspect of needed patent reform.

The SCO claims forced the community to go over the code with a fine-toothed comb, to determine if any of the claims had any validity. Because the code is open for inspection 24/7, you and your company are free to do the same. And what was unanimously agreed upon by all who took the time and had the ability to make such a check was that nobody could find any infringing SCO code. Nobody expected to find any, actually, based on the known ethics of FOSS developers, but now it's not just an educated guess.

SCO still claims it will somehow pull a rabbit out of the hat once it gets its hands of IBM's unreleased versions of AIX and Dynix, in a complicated ladder theory of theirs regarding methods and concepts. But as far as straight-out infringing code, no one -- including SCO -- has been able to find any that I am aware of.

This is a remarkable thing, if you think about it. Do you think, if we could look at proprietary software, that we'd find such clean code? Maybe the open development method encourages honesty because it's so easy to get caught, and all the FUD about unknown origins of the code was just that -- efforts to foment fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Despite the code cleanness, there is now in place a stricter process for following who contributes to the kernel and their authority to donate code, which is an added factor in peace of mind. Most people realize, as's Dan Ravicher has pointed out [,1759,1729908,00.asp ], that proprietary software is every bit as likely to have contaminated code, if not more so.

Everyone is now more aware of how licenses, including the GPL, work. This heightened awareness benefits everyone. Coders need to know that an open-source license isn't the same thing as public domain, and companies need to have compliance processes in place for FOSS, just as they do for proprietary software, for those employees who still don't understand that.

To encourage greater understanding, OSDL has sponsored Open Source Software Licensing/legal track seminars [ ], as just one example.

The litigation has encouraged increased support for FOSS, including setting up and offering indemnification packages for businesses that require it to be able to deploy software. There is also now a new Software Freedom Law Center [ ] to support Open Source developers.

And a huge benefit: There is now a heightened awareness of the benefits of using GNU/Linux systems. SCO itself continues to offer FOSS software, so folks have come to recognize that a lot of companies see so much benefit in this new operating system, they will stare down the SCO bully and, in IBM's case, even incur a significant legal expense, which tells everyone that Linux really must be a cash cow, and they'd be foolish not to at least look into it.

The funny thing is, way back in the summer of 2003, OSDL's Stuart Cohen predicted [ ] that the SCO lawsuit wouldn't stop Linux users. He was right. How did he know? Just try Linux. You'll see.

Take Linux for a Spin

By the way, if you would like to try Linux but don't want to install it, just get a Knoppix CD. You can either download it for free and make your own CD. Or order one from any of the resellers, like Linux Central. It will cost you less than $10. Usually much less. It's not only the kernel; it includes all the applications you might want. Tom's Hardware has a tutorial [ ] on migrating from Windows to GNU/Linux.

Here's the description of what Knoppix is from

KNOPPIX is a bootable CD with a collection of GNU/Linux software, automatic hardware detection, and support for many graphics cards, sound cards, SCSI and USB devices and other peripherals. KNOPPIX can be used as a Linux demo, educational CD, rescue system, or adapted and used as a platform for commercial software product demos. It is not necessary to install anything on a hard disk. Due to on-the-fly decompression, the CD can have up to 2 GB of executable software installed on it.

It runs on a Microsoft computer from the CD, so you can take GNU/Linux for a spin without leaving a trace behind, unless you want to. When you remove the CD, you are back in your previous operating system. It's great for writing love letters at work too, without fear of unwanted exposure from all the tracks you leave behind in Microsoft Word.

Pamela Jones is the founder and editor of Groklaw.

Copyright 2005