SCO's lawsuit could slow the march of Linux

With the SCO Group suing IBM Corp. for alleged infringement of Unix copyrights in Linux, and NetWare vendor (and Unix patent holder) Novell Inc. disputing SCO's claims, government IT managers must wonder what to do with that alleged unauthorized derivative known as Linux. SCO's discomforting advice: Get a lawyer. That's what it warned in a letter to 1,500 large companies.

The same goes for government. 'We would advise government IT managers to seek an opinion of legal counsel that can make specific recommendations to their specific situation,' advised Chris Sontag, senior vice president of SCO's SCOsource, in a statement to GCN Technology. 'SCO's warning applies to all organizations that are using or considering using Linux. Linux has significant [intellectual property] concerns, and until these concerns are resolved, any organization using Linux needs to know that they may be legally liable for using stolen code.'

Sontag said that Novell later 'acknowledged what SCO has been affirming all along'that SCO owns the copyrights for Unix and UnixWare.'

Larry Gasparro, SCO's senior vice president of North American sales, admitted SCO was careful not to prescribe specific actions. But analyst George Weiss of Gartner Inc. offered a cautious potential strategy in an April research note.

IT departments should set up an internal process, possibly with legal advice, to perform due diligence on all their open-source code for possible patent infringement, he wrote. They should also create quality-assurance procedures for approving code before it goes into production systems.

Weiss added that the extra steps probably will slow adoption of high-end Linux systems, and that the legal actions could ultimately require payments for shared libraries on every server'and even affect users of IBM's Unix-based AIX server OS.

In a later note, Weiss warned against dismissing the matter, and recommended minimizing Linux on mission-critical systems until the merits of the suit are clarified or resolved in court.

Will the lawsuit stop Linux in its tracks? Gasparro said no, because much of the open-source creativity happens on the applications side, which is untouched by the suit. Agencies wanting the best of both worlds can run Linux applications on Unix server OSes, including SCO's own UnixWare, Hewlett-Packard Co.'s HP-UX or Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris.

On the other hand, many popular Linux apps are meant for desktop PCs, where cautious IT managers are far more likely to run Microsoft Windows.

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