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Caldera to SCO to Success?

Back to the Future? Back to a Declining Past?

  • September 23, 2002
  • By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Can a company come back from the dead? That's what Caldera is betting as they change from their old identity to SCO, the company that was once known as the be-all and end-all of Intel Unix.

You could have knocked the Caldera resellers over with a feather with the news. They had come to Caldera's annual tradeshow, GeoFORUM in Las Vegas in late August to get the latest news, but never in their wildest dreams had they imagined that Caldera would go back to the future by reembracing their SCO Group roots. But, that's exactly what happened, Caldera renamed itself The SCO Group, after its 2000 acquisition; re-swore allegiance to OpenServer, its old small and medium businesses (SMB) Unix operating system; and re-emphasized that it was about delivering business solutions to SMBs, not operating systems. And, the resellers loved it.

Wayne Stewart, president of Clerkware Canada, a company that makes and services Canadian customs software, has been selling SCO OpenServer for nine years, and his reaction to the changes was simply: "GREAT IDEA!"

He wasn't the only one. Rene Beltran, VP of Sales for DTR Business Systems, both a SCO reseller and a supplier to other SCO resellers says, "I think it's the most positive thing they've done since Caldera bought SCO." And, after talking with thirty other resellers since the announcement, he reports, "Everyone was pleased because of the renewal of the SCA brand identify."

Which is exactly what Darl McBride, newly minted president and CEO of SCO wants to hear. He says, "If you look back at the 90s, SCO was (I)the(/I) business operating system on Intel. As you fast forward to today, when you think of Unix on Intel, Linux comes to mind, but what users really want is the same core business applications. Our channel is very adept at working in the SMB space. And, to them, Linux, Unix, it all looks the same." Going on, he says, we're about business, not Unix. Linux and Unix aren't different animals, they're in the same pen, and they can run common applications."

The analysts though take an entirely different tack. Bill Claybrook, Research Director for Linux and Unix for the Aberdeen Group says that while emphasizing business applications over operating systems is "a good idea, people still look under the hood to see the operating system, even though they say they don't care." Besides, looking ahead, will anyone "build an application server on OpenServer? No one will."

Caldera's response to this has been to, instead of following their old path of giving OpenServer and UnixWare-which has gone from UnixWare to OpenUnix to UnixWare again-Linux kernel personalities, is to incorporate Linux functionality within their old operating systems.

McBride explains, "We will re-embrace OpenServer and look at what that means as we go into Linux. As we envision the future move them to Linux, instead we see an opportunity to move people to both Linux and OpenServer by looking at ways to bridge Unix and Linux. People, he goes on to say, "really don't want to run a two operating environment, they just want to know how to make one of them work well." So, SCO is tackling the question of "How do we take the OpenServer family and move them forward to Linux without leaving them behind and at the same time gain ISV support."

The answer is on the OpenServer roadmap. In the next version, 5.0.7, which is due out shortly, we find not only USB 2.0 support, but GNU development tools and libraries as well. Looking down the road to the second quarter of 2003, we see SCO planning to add such open source favorites as the Mozilla Web browser; the Samba, the popular Common Internet File System (CIFS) server and Apache, everyone's favorite open source Web server. In short, by the time 5.0.8 roles out, a system administrator will be able to tell its OpenServer, but a business user who wants a Web server and file access by his Windows machines will be hard pressed to tell that it's not a Linux machine running in the background.

OpenServer is also adding Java support as it moves forward. It may sound like an odd idea, but by the middle of next year, OpenServer could conceivably be used to deliver Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition (J2EE) Web Services.

Claybrook isn't too sure that this approach will fly. "I still believe people want to run Linux applications on Linux, not Solaris or AIX. ISVs have never liked this approach and it has never worked. People want to run Linux on Linux and Unix on Unix." He goes on to say that, "will eventually move to Linux applications and they'll run them on Red Hat or UnitedLinux." Making OpenServer Linux application friendly is "a short-term solution, it's not a serious long-term solution. Resellers may like it, but unless the users are fanatical OpenServer users, I don't think they'll run Linux applications on OpenServer."

But, what SCO and its resellers has found that is that its OpenServer users (I)are(/I) fanatical. Beltran comments, "I just got off the phone with a reseller and end-user, and the reseller's going to upgrade his system and the end-user asked if he can keep his SCO update. SMB end-users know SCO by name. For them SCO is analogous to them with stability; when you buy SCO you're buying an operating system that doesn't blow up. It may not get new customers, but it lets you keeping the old customers."

Dan Kusnetzky, IDC's vice president for system software research, thinks though that SCO had little or no brand equity except in its installed base and that the VARs and system integrators which had been leaving it to become Windows VARs or Linux VARs. As for Caldera, "Caldera had no brand name. When we'd ask operating system survey questions, at most 2 to 3% of our respondents answered with Caldera. But, going from one unknown name to another will not help."

Beltran though doesn't think that that's the point. SCO is not a household brand; it's a SMB brand. When most people think guitars they think Fender and Gibson, but high-end musicians might ask for Victor-Baker guitar, because musicians at that level know what it is."

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