Snowed By SCO
September 19, 2007Boston - In the print edition of Forbes there's a great (albeit sometimes painful) tradition of doing "follow-through" articles where a reporter either takes a victory lap for making a good call or falls on his sword for making a bad one. Online publications don't typically ask for follow-throughs. But I need to write one.
For four years, I've been covering a lawsuit for Forbes.com, and my early predictions on this case have turned out to be so profoundly wrong that I am writing this mea culpa. What can I say? I grew up Roman Catholic. The habit stays with you.
The case is SCO Group v. IBM. In March 2003, SCO sued IBM claiming that IBM took code from Unix--for which SCO claimed to own copyrights--and put that code into Linux, which is distributed free. Last month a judge ruled that SCO does not, in fact, own the Unix copyrights. That blows SCO's case against IBM out of the water. SCO, of Lindon, Utah, is seeking bankruptcy protection.
In June 2003, a few months after SCO Group sued IBM over the Linux operating system, I wrote an article that bore the headline: "What SCO Wants, SCO Gets." The article contained some critical stuff about SCO but also warned that SCO stood a chance of winning the lawsuit. "SCO may not be very good at making a profit by selling software. ... But it is very good at getting what it wants from other companies," I wrote.
I wrote that because in the 1990s SCO's predecessor company, Caldera, ran a similar shakedown on Microsoft, making claims about the old DOS operating system. I was briefed by Caldera's lawyers on that case, but I never took them seriously. Then they won a settlement. Whoops.
This time, I figured I should at least give SCO the benefit of the doubt. I flew to Utah and interviewed their managers. I attended a SCO conference in Las Vegas and did more interviews. They told me all sorts of things, like they'd found a "smoking gun" that proved IBM was guilty, and that they were preparing to sue big Hollywood companies that use Linux server farms to make movies.
I reported what they said. Turns out I was getting played. They never produced a smoking gun. They never sued any Hollywood company.
Over time my SCO articles began to carry headlines like, "Dumb and Dumber," "Bumbling Bully" and "SCO gets TKO'd."
But I still thought it would be foolish to predict how this lawsuit (or any lawsuit) would play out. I even wrote an article called "Revenge of the Nerds," which poked fun at the pack of amateur sleuths who were following the case on a Web site called Groklaw and who claimed to know for sure that SCO was going to lose.
Turns out those amateur sleuths were right. Now some of them are writing to me asking how I'd like my crow cooked, and where I'd like it delivered.
Others in that highly partisan crowd have suggested that I wanted SCO to win, and even that I was paid off by SCO or Microsoft. Of course that's not true. I've told these folks it's not true. Hasn't stopped them.
The truth, as is often the case, is far less exciting than the conspiracy theorists would like to believe. It is simply this: I got it wrong. The nerds got it right.
SCO is road kill. Its lawsuit long ago ceased to represent any threat to Linux. That operating system has become far too successful to be dislodged. Someday soon the SCO lawsuits will go away, and I will never have to write another article about SCO ever again. I can't wait.