SCO suit dampens Centrelink open source aspirations

SCO's legal assault on Linux is delaying a major open source evaluation project being undertaken by Centrelink. The move is believed to be the first concession by a user in Australia that the vendor's activities are hampering its takeup of open source software.

SCO's legal assault on Linux is delaying a major open source evaluation project being undertaken by Centrelink. The move is believed to be the first concession by a user in Australia that the vendor's activities are hampering its takeup of open source software.

According to Helen Austin, Centrelink national manager for enterprise architecture, SCO's legal activities may delay the organisation's investigation into open source software expected to run over the next five years. Austin said the government was now investing more time in the evaluation phase of the project to protect the government against any negative legal impacts from court actions involving Linux.

Austin told delegates attending Open Source Forum 2004 in Sydney yesterday that "[Centrelink] can't afford the distraction of litigation".

"Even if we were happily convinced that everything we did was the right thing its still an exhausting process to prove that in a court of law and its that reluctance that makes us say: 'we don't want to leave the pack here; we want to check what happens in other people's situations so that we can defend ourselves in advance, prevention being better than cure," Austin later told ZDNet Australia   in an interview.

As well as protecting the specific interests of Centrelink, Austin said the federal government was now making sure that government contracts with "third parties" were "watertight".

Delegates were told that Centrelink was working closely with National Office for the Information Economy (NOIE) and the Attorney General on the matter.

Centrelink has engaged in little public discussion about the investigation project - not be confused with its five-year, AU$300 million dollar IT refresh program -- to date, aside from revealing that it aims to establish the organisation as an "active user of open source and open standards".

Privately, sources say that Centrelink is investigating the possibility of rolling out a uniform Linux operating system across the organisation's mid-range and IBM mainframe server hardware, which serves an estimated 27,000 users.

SCO's assault arose from its vigorously-debated claim to intellectual property contained in the popular non-proprietary operating system.

The company launched in March 2003 legal action seeking damages from IBM on the basis of allegations it illegally incorporated code from a variant of Unix SCO claims to own into Linux. It initially sought US$1 billion in damages and later escalated the claim to US$3 billion.

SCO was met with avalanche of protests from the Linux community, which widely viewed the litigation as an attack on the open source software. The fracas over the software escalated in July, after SCO began demanding license fees from commercial users of Linux in jurisdictions it calculated would favour its claim.

ZDNet Australia today approached Centrelink for further comment on how its project was positioned legally as a result of SCO's assault, but it was unable to respond in time for publication.