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SCO: 'Joke' Or Food for Thought?

SCO Debate Continues at Comdex

  • November 24, 2003
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

SCO's litigation plans around Linux and BSD Unix amount to "a joke," said Tim O'Reilly, CEO of O'Reilly Publishing. During an open source roundtable at Comdex, the panel moderator strongly criticized SCO's refusal to go public with more details about its intellectual property (IP) infringement claims. In the same session, however, a Microsoft exec said he sees the SCO case as food for thought among developers.

Responding to a question from the audience, O'Reilly suggested that, if SCO's allegations really carried much weight, SCO would be willing to elaborate more. He predicted that the SCO beef will "blow over." SCO's complaint "wouldn't matter," he said, except that certain parties want it to matter. O'Reilly didn't specify which parties he meant.

In answer to the same question, Microsoft's Jason Matusow predicted that the SCO case will stir up more thinking about the "role of IP" in the development community. US IP law revolves around four types of protection: patent, copyright, trademark, and trade secret, according to Matusow, who is manager of Micosoft's shared source projects. Matusow indicated that Microsoft tends to rely on trade secret protection with the 8,000 Microsoft engineers who have access to Windows code.

Earlier in the session, Matusow acknowledged that Microsoft recently started sharing some portions of Windows code--"but not all of it" and "not for modification"--to support software innovation among certain customers, including academia and government agencies in the US, UK and China.

Some developers, such as Microsoft, directly sell the software they produce, to recover their R&D costs, he said. In other situations, developers "indirectly commercialize," gaining revenues from tools and services. Matusow cited the IBM-sponsored Eclipse Project as one example of indirect commercialization. Alternatively, developers "may choose not to commercialize" their software.

Matusow acknowledged that Microsoft has used open source BSD Unix code in its own products, at various times. Microsoft's Hotmail still operates on BSD DNS Services, for example, although the rest of the Hotmail infrastructure now runs on Windows, he said.

This past May, Microsoft licensed Unix System V source code and patents from SCO. Last week, SCO CEO Darl McBride said Microsoft paid SCO a total of $16 million in licensing fees, through two contracts valued at $8 million each.

Also during the roundtable at Comdex, O'Reilly maintained that, within Microsoft's new ASP.NET environment, "a lot of open source-like development can happen." ASP.NET was originally created and used within Microsoft for internal development. Then, Microsoft's Bill Gates heard about ASP.NET and decided to look into productizing the environment, O'Reilly said.

Matusow was careful to emphasize, though, that he doesn't consider Microsoft to be an "open source developer."

O'Reilly and Matusow were the only panelists to directly answer the question about the impact of the SCO case on open source development. Much of the discussion during the session at Comdex revolved around various hybrid models, combining open source and commercial development.

According to SCO's McBride, Unix System V copyrights were stripped from Unix System V source code. which then allegedly showed up in AIX and Linux. McBride has repeatedly said that SCO is showing some of the disputed code, but only under NDA. SCO is already embroiled in legal action against IBM. Last week, McBride said that SCO will sue some customers who refuse to sign software licensing agreements, and that SCO is looking at legal action against BSD, as well.

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