Is SCO finally walking the walk?

After months of threatening and posturing, SCO has finally taken legal action against two companies for using Linux... or has it?

So SCO has finally done it. Not content with gate-crashing the Linux love-in with a loaded gun and blaring incoherently about stealing property, the legal firm -- sorry, software company -- has escalated the situation by finally pulling a couple of unfortunates out of the crowd and putting the gun to their heads.

If you're wondering what makes the two firms concerned -- DaimlerChrysler and Autozone -- so regrettably special (maybe SCO chief executive Darl McBride had a dodgy Kompressor that he couldn't get parts for?) then you need to take a look at the fine print of the suits that SCO has filed. Although SCO is suing the two companies, without the benefit of a law degree it's difficult to nail down exactly for what.

First assumption is that both companies are being sued for the same thing: violating SCO's Unix copyright by running Linux. Closer inspection reveals that, as with everything to do with this case, it's not that clear cut.

Firstly, both companies are or have been customers of SCO, which they probably thought gave them some protection -- but SCO is actually using the fact to single them out. Secondly, the companies are being sued for two different reasons; or as Darl McBride puts it, "they're at the head of two different classes that are violating our agreements".

Autozone, singled out for the chop first, has been targeted because it "violated SCO's UNIX copyrights by running versions of the Linux operating system that contain code, structure, sequence and/or organisation from SCO's proprietary UNIX System V code in violation of SCO's copyrights". This appears pretty much in line with SCO's grievance up till now -- that anyone using Linux owes it a licence fee. But it's not clear to what degree the agreements that Autozone made as a SCO customer play in the suit, or whether SCO would have grounds to sue a Linux user with whom it had no prior relationship.

DaimlerChrysler on the other hand, as a licensee of SCO's Unix System V source code, is being sued for refusing requests from SCO to certify that the source code is protected from being used in Linux. This case doesn't actually have anything to do with Daimler's use of Linux but once again with details of SCO's interpretation of the licence. But pulling a big name into the mêlée is great PR for SCO: if SCO can go after a company the size of Daimler, they can go after anyone.

SCO's game plan could be to be to create as much Fear Uncertainty and Doubt as possible in the minds of Linux users, which could lead more of them to follow the lead of, a company that hosts Web sites for clients and a division of Everyones Internet. That company signed a deal with SCO -- details undisclosed -- for running thousands of Linux servers without facing legal consequences.

The two companies concerned -- Autozone and DaimlerChrysler -- probably won't take much comfort from it but at least SCO has finally transitioned from talking the talk to walking the walk and has injected some much-needed pace into this increasingly protracted and tired yarn. It's just a shame that SCO's walking in a different direction to the roadmap it's so vividly -- if confusingly -- sketched out.

After weeks of prologue and scene-setting, crammed with bran-numbing legal bafflement, things have finally gotten interesting -- well, more interesting than they were. While it's not exactly CSI or NYPD Blue, more like S.C.O: Serial Coercion Opportunists, I can't wait for the next instalment. Things really start getting juicy when you consider the list of possible targets if these initial lawsuits are a sign of things to come:

  • Amusingly, the Nevada Court where SCO has filed its lawsuit against Autozone runs its web site off Linux.
  • Amazon. The company began to use Linux in 2000 for basic tasks. It then spreads to more critical areas, notably the company's database. Linux systems also are the basis for the e-commerce engine that the company sells to other retailers, including Toys 'R' Us, Target, Borders Group, Nordstrom, The Gap, CDNow and the National Basketball Association.
  • The Official Web sites of the White House and the FBI are powered by Linux
  • Google's entire architecture is based around tens of thousands of linked PCs using Linux.
  • The UK's Royal Air Force uses SuSE's Linux as a testing environment for F3 Tornado operational flight programs.
  • AOL is a Red Hat reference customer cited in the Linux distributor's latest company report.
  • NASA Langley Research Centre
  • The local government in Munich, Germany, has voted to move 14,000 computers to a Linux desktop.
  • The Chinese government has been pushing the development of a home-grown software industry and a national standard for Linux to counter the dominance of Windows
  • Looks like SCO has the potential to make some very interesting enemies if it really decides to let loose its legal dogs. Having ruined his chances of getting on the waiting list of a new Mercedes, it looks like Darl McBride will have to think carefully if he's a big reader, a basketball fan, or planning a trip to China anytime soon.