SCO, it was good to know ya... you coulda been so much more

I read with interest this morning a story in ComputerWorld (more like an obituary) about how SCO said in its most recent SEC filing that there is "substantial doubt" that it will survive. In addition to the meltdown of its lawsuit against IBM, the filing cites its depleted cash position and entry into Chapter 11 as its major woes.

I read with interest this morning a story in ComputerWorld (more like an obituary) about how SCO said in its most recent SEC filing that there is "substantial doubt" that it will survive. In addition to the meltdown of its lawsuit against IBM, the filing cites its depleted cash position and entry into Chapter 11 as its major woes. While the Net is flush with celebration and legal analysis (and am happy that SCO did not prevail), I think my take on this is a bit more sobering in the bigger picture of our great industry.

SCO the brand was at one time a great brand. Before Linux and open source were the forces they are, SCO was the go-to solution provider for a great many companies who wanted to run a variant of Unix on the Intel platform. The SCO ecosystem thrived on two inter-related propositions.

First, Like many *ixes, SCO offered a networkable multiuser operating system on cheap hardware. Windows wasn't multi-user then and still isn't multi-user today. OS/2 wasn't really multi-user either (even with LAN Manager strapped to it). NetWare had multiuser characteristics but never drew the developers of bread & butter business applications the way the Unix ecosystem did. Banyan's Vines showed promise but ultimately was little more than a lesson on the importance of enterprise-wide directories. BSD, in any of its instantiations was probably next in line behind SCO but lacked a strong solution provider to give customers a single throat to choke in the event something went wrong.

Second, given SCO's dominant role as the go-to provider for networkable multiuser operating systems (on the Intel platform), it was a favorite target for software developers with those bread n' butter solutions that might not have been very sexy, but were needed by thousands if not millions of businesses (and/or departments). For example, patient management systems for medical and dental practices, fund raising systems, telemarketing and customer support systems.

When you think about it, SCO really had something special there. A unique niche in the marketplace. To be fair, the SCO I'm talking about is different from the SCO that's about to disappear into the ether (although some well-known company -- perhaps Microsoft or Sun -- is likely to pick up its assets in a fire sale). Even so though, the SCO brand was one of the lucky chosen ones to really succeed in the industry and as much as I'm happy that IBM prevailed, I'm also a bit saddened by the way those entrusted to safeguard that brand ended up destroying it instead.

For all that the SCO brand stood for when it was doing well, it can now be remember as a snapshot of what's wrong with the technology business, particularly the American technology business. Some number of people spend time worrying about what its going to take to keep America competitive in the global marketplace. Meanwhile, the global marketplace probably loves to watch Americans fight amongst themselves. What country needs to come up with a divide and conquer strategy when we're handing one to the world on a silver platter. It's not that I don't have respect for intellectual property (IP) law. But, had SCO not taken the incredibly risky and litigious path it took (one that other IP trolls are taking), today's SCO could have been so much more.

In the Linux space alone, think about what has changed since SCO first began its assault. Ubuntu comes to mind as a distribution of Linux (built on Debian) that arrived on the scene well after SCO started flexing its legal muscles and has since commanded a an amazing amount of buzz given the other more established alternatives in the market. Imagine if SCO saw the same niche opportunity and went for it. Or, maybe such opportunities can't happen with out someone like Mark Shuttleworth to drive them and perhaps the two companies (Shuttleworth's Canonical which sponsors Ubuntu and SCO) could have found some mutually beneficial arrangement.

We can debate all we want about the merit of this idea but let's not because it's not the idea itself that matters. It's the fact when SCO decided to pursue the litigious path it did, there were plenty of niche business opportunities that the company could have attached its credible brand to instead. Unfortunately, in what will probably make for a great case study in Harvard Business Review or the like, instead of looking to build its own interesting and unique business (one that employs people, contributes to the economy, has happy customers, etc.), the company tried to take down others. It ended up taking down itself instead and forever tarnishing what was once a great brand in the marketplace.

So long SCO. It was good to have known ya.

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