Meta: It's ok to use Linux

Despite SCO's warning to businesses that their use of the open-source operating system may make them liable for breach of copyright, Meta Group is more positive
Written by Fran Foo, Contributor and  Josh Mehlman, Contributor

Companies should proceed with current or planned Linux projects despite the SCO Group's move to curb usage of the popular open-source platform, says Dr Kevin McIsaac, research director for Asia-Pacific at Meta Group.

"I think it's an unfortunate turn of events for Linux but nevertheless, users should look at the overall risk profile...I would advise them to continue with what they're doing [but] check with the application provider and check your licensing contracts," McIsaac told ZDNet Australia.

On Wednesday, the company sent letters to 1,500 top international businesses warning that they may be held liable for breach of copyright for using Linux, which allegedly contains copied proprietary Unix source code.

"I think organisations need to reassess their position with regard to Linux," said Kieran O'Shaughnessy, regional general manager for SCO Australia and New Zealand. "They need to make a call in consultation with their legal advisors as to how they perceive the risks and whether they think it is a practical and viable path to go down, given the question marks SCO is raising over the Linux product."

SCO currently owns the intellectual property rights over the source code for Unix, which was developed by AT&T. AT&T sold those rights to Novell, which sold them to Unix vendor SCO. SCO was taken over by Linux vendor Caldera, which subsequently changed its name back to SCO.

SCO has been going through a bumpy ride as a company. "It has struggled over the last few years so its making the most of its assets now," McIsaac said. "This is the kind of thing you'd do when you have few options left...SCO today is really a shadow of its former self."

It's difficult to predict what the outcome will be since it's such a contentious issue but McIsaac said the show must go on. "Look at Microsoft's antitrust suit and how long that has taken. This will take at least 12 months to play out," he explained.

Although SCO's O'Shaughnessy believes there's "a very real possibility" that CEOs or CIOs would order their IT departments to remove Linux from their systems, at least until the copyright issues were sorted out, McIsaac thinks otherwise.

The analyst said it will be business as usual for the next six to nine months but if this stretches out to 18 months, then it might have an impact on Linux adoption rates.

"It's unclear how much SCO has in its war chest to pursue this but at the end of the day, customers need to ask themselves if this is FUD or otherwise," McIsaac said.

SCO has also withdrawn from sale its own Linux distribution, SCO Linux, part of the UnitedLinux family of Linux distributions that also includes SuSE, TurboLinux and Conectiva.

"We can't in good faith also be selling a product that we believe there are serious question marks over in terms of intellectual property or copyright infringement," explained SCO's O'Shaughnessy. "We've taken what we view as a major step, and an indication of how seriously we take this whole matter by withdrawing what is a strategic product from our portfolio."

However, he claimed that SCO has by no means given up on Linux.

"We announced a suspension, not a termination. We feel that for the good of Linux, these intellectual property and copyright question marks need to be resolved. Once these can be rectified and resolved once and for all, then there's every chance we would get back into Linux," O'Shaughnessy said. He was unable to provide an estimate of how long that might take, however. "I couldn't even begin to guess. Once you get into the legal world, anything's possible," he said.

In March, SCO initiated a lawsuit against IBM for using copyrighted Unix code to improve Linux. The company has not ruled out further legal action. "We have at this time announced no other legal action or intent on legal action," said O'Shaughnessy. ""What has been said is that we will pursue and protect our intellectual property and pursue people we believe have violated our intellectual property."

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