There's been nothing like it since Dallas hit our screens quarter of a century ago. Colourful characters, plot twists and suspense? Check. Good versus evil, powerful men versus noble innocents, billions of dollars in the balance? Yep. We even have judges, guns and mysterious briefcases: as pure drama, l'affaire SCO cannot be faulted. Yet there may be a bigger surprise at the end than anyone guessed.
Whoever's writing the script threw in a doozie last week: Daddy wants his money back -- or does he? Baystar, the group of capitalists that on Microsoft's tip-off gave SCO $20m to establish control over Linux, publicly said that it wanted out. And then it shut up.
That statement alone was a crippling blow to SCO, whose share price promptly shed nearly half its value. If one of the two major backers for the expedition thinks the game is up, why would judges, juries, investors and customers think any different? SCO's reaction was typically loud, self-pitying and blisteringly ironic -- Baystar hasn't told us what the problem is exactly, it said. And if we don't know the details, how can we respond? For a company that has consistently fought to avoid revealing any substantive details of its own legal claims, this is rich stuff indeed.
After a week of letting the company swing in the breeze, Baystar today amplified its position via an interview in the New York Times. It still has faith in the basic intellectual property claims of SCO, it says, but not in SCO's management. More precisely, it wants SCO to concentrate on the case and stop mouthing off in public -- and while it's at it, it should ditch its software products.
Expect SCO to comply or die. There are two reasons for this. Whether or not it could afford the financial hit and whether or not it can be forced to return the money -- neither is clear -- it cannot afford to have Baystar as an enemy for any length of time. The best reason, though, is simple: Baystar is dead right on all counts.
Disposing of the software issue first, as SCO should have done last year: nobody will ever want to buy software from the company again. It's not very good, it's miles behind the competition and you run the risk that your supplier will slap a lawsuit on you if you so much as look at a penguin. SCO has no future in developing or selling software, and pretending that it does is a drain on the company's resources, focus and remaining credibility.