Industry group fights SCO with Linux education

The Open Source Development Labs consortium is planning to fight intellectual property fears around Linux by teaching businesses how kernel development works

The Open Source Development Labs (OSDL), a Linux consortium funded by most of the computing industry's major companies, has launched the open-source industry's latest counterattack to the SCO Group's attack on Linux: an education campaign designed to raise awareness of how the Linux kernel is developed.

SCO, which owns Unix intellectual property, is suing IBM for $3bn (£2bn) over its alleged role in transferring code from the Unix operating system to Linux, and claims that businesses using Linux must pay SCO licensing fees. SCO has argued that the way Linux is developed is poor at preventing the inclusion of code that belongs to other companies. Claims such as these led Linux vendor Red Hat to countersue SCO in order to lay the matter to rest.

OSDL's kernel-awareness initiative, launched on Wednesday, is another attempt to ease business' fears that they may open themselves up to legal attack by using Linux.

"Recent public criticism of the Linux development process shows a lack of understanding as to the rigour imposed by Linus [Torvalds] himself and the development community at large," said OSDL chief executive Stuart Cohen, in a statement. "It is a process built on the scientific method of peer review." Linus Torvalds created Linux and maintains the development kernel.

As a starting point, OSDL is distributing a simplified graphical representation of the Linux development process (available on the organisation's Web site), which emphasises the process of peer review.

The launch is timed to coincide with the release of the long-awaited 2.6 version of the Linux kernel, expected in December. Torvalds released a test version, expected to be the last, on Wednesday.

Linux is based on Unix. But unlike Unix, Linux grew popular on widely used and low-priced Intel-based computers. It first became popular among corporate customers on lower-end servers, but running on higher-end servers will let Linux supplant more of the Unix market.

A large number of often self-appointed programmers create Linux by collaborating and sharing the source code that underlies the software. This open-source development process contrasts starkly with the proprietary controls that govern Linux competitors such as Unix and Windows.

Developers are organised into subsystems focusing on different technologies such as storage and networking, with a subsystem maintainer overseeing each group. The subsystem maintainers, as well any interested parties from the general public, review the submitted code before it is passed along to the kernel maintainer for inclusion in the software.

OSDL dipped its toes into the SCO waters when it published a criticism of SCO's case against Linux in July, written by Eben Moglen -- a law professor at Columbia University and the legal representative of the Free Software Foundation, which created the General Public License (GPL) governing Linux.

More recently OSDL has become more fully immersed in the situation. SCO has subpoenaed Cohen and Torvalds, who work at OSDL, and the lab is paying for their legal representation. OSDL has published a new position piece by Moglen, an expansion of his July position.

Unsurprisingly, SCO doesn't agree with Moglen. Spokesman Blake Stowell dismissed Moglen's arguments, calling his analogies flawed.

OSDL is funded by IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Sun Microsystems, Red Hat, Cisco Systems, Computer Associates International, Fujitsu, Hitachi, Nokia and others.

CNET's Stephen Shankland and staff contributed to this report.