Enterprise Unix Roundup: Wither OpenServer, Unixware?

by Brian Proffitt

After a year in bi-weekly land, Enterprise Unix Roundup has returned to its weekly format. This week, the possible demise of not one, but two, Unix flavors is examined.

Ed. note: The initial posting of this article neglected to include the last two paragraphs. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.

Brian Proffitt

During the holiday break, a change occurred in the Unix business landscape when The SCO Group announced it would be delisted from the Nasdaq. As of Tuesday afternoon, SCOX is a penny stock sitting at nine cents a share. Quite a fall from its five-year high of $22.29.

Linux enthusiasts are, naturally, quite thrilled with what seems to be the coming end of the SCO drama, which began soon after Darl McBride stepped into the CEO position in 2002. After making noises that Linux contained some of the source code of the Unix System V code The SCO Group claimed to own, the company filed a $1 billion lawsuit against IBM, then one of the largest development providers for the Linux operating system.

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In August 2007, the whole thing came to a screeching halt. Judge Dale Kimbal, presiding over the Novell v. SCO case, issued a summary judgment that Novell still owned the copyrights for Unix. The old deal with the Santa Cruz Operation was actually a license to use Unix, not a transfer of ownership rights.

Suddenly faced with the legal reality that it didn't actually own what it was suing IBM for infringing, SCO went into a slow-motion death spiral that included filing for bankruptcy and, most recently, the aforementioned Nasdaq delisting.

Some have questioned Kimbal's decision and believe SCO has a good shot at appealing this ruling. But after settling all the bills and outstanding debts in bankruptcy court, too little of SCO may be left to actually pursue an appeal.

I think Kimbal may have gotten it right, but we may never know for sure.

Also up in the air, of course, is the original charge brought by The SCO Group: the alleged presence of Unix code somewhere in the hidden depths of Linux. But Linux' depths aren't hidden, are they? The source code is open. It's a little hard to believe someone who's seen the Unix source code hasn't done a little private digging in Linux to figure out what, if anything, SCO was referring to in its IP charges. The fact that nothing came up in this world of media leaks is telling in and of itself.

No matter where you side on this issue, for or against SCO, there is no denying two less Unix flavors will be out there after the dust settles. There seems no hope SCO will ever survive to keep OpenServer or UnixWare alive and kicking. In the grand scheme of things, it is unlikely they will be missed — sales of these operating systems were very low at the turn of the century, anyway. That's a big part of the reason McBride and his board of directors turned SCO into a litigious company in the first place.

The Linux community went berserk. Red Hat filed a countersuit. Novell, which had originally licensed the Unix code to the original Santa Cruz Operation, also filed a suit, denying it had ever released ownership of the Unix code. This lawsuit would later prove pivotal to the entire sordid affair.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols over at Linux-Watch has a good set of theories on where OpenServer and UnixWare customers might end up. I asked Pamela Jones if she thought there was a chance these operating systems would get sold to another company and possibly kept alive in that manner.

SCO tried to sell its Unix assets to York Capital Management back in November. Strong objections from Novell and the U.S Trustee's Office resulted in it withdrawing the emergency motion without prejudice — which means SCO can try another asset sale in the future.

"I personally believe they will try again," Jones responded via e-mail to me on Tuesday.

If that is indeed the case, there may be some hope for the future of OpenServer and UnixWare. But, I fear these Unix assets may be dragged under by a desperately drowning company — never to be seen again.

Brian Proffitt is managing editor of JupiterWeb's Linux/Open Source channel, which includes Linux Today, LinuxPlanet, and AllLinuxDevices.

This article was originally published on Wednesday Jan 9th 2008
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