SCOing down

SCO has just lost an important part of its legal battle against IBM, Novell and open source. It lost the plot years ago

It's been four years in the making, but the first substantial judgement in SCO's litigation campaign has been worth the wait. Judge Kimball has ruled that SCO does not own the copyrights to Unix and UnixWare — at a stroke disembowelling SCO's claims that it has been damaged by infringements to those copyrights and associated licences. What happens next is still unclear. It is unlikely to be to SCO's advantage.

SCO's failure has strengthened the open-source community, both practically and morally. Throughout the affair, SCO has not acted with bona fides. It has obfuscated, backtracked, muddled and failed to back up its claims with facts. Meanwhile, the response from the community has been strong, clear, unambiguous and greatly to its credit: "Show us what we did wrong, and we will fix it" is a promise that many commercial organisations would do well to adopt.

SCO failed to so show. It failed to show early, and it failed to show often. As a result, it didn't take long for most observers to conclude that the claims were baseless. Yet after all the time its taken for the slow grinding of judicial wheels to spit out this first official confirmation, SCO's motivation for taking such a destructive course of action remains mysterious.

We can only surmise that, at the time this strategy evolved, SCO, like its former partner IBM, had realised that open source would massively change the Unix market. The old ways of thinking wouldn't work. But, by adopting an equally outmoded response to this problem, that of becoming a legal thorn in the side of a company big enough to buy you out, SCO demonstrated that, while it may have sensed danger, it completely misunderstood its nature — and, sadly, its attendant promise.

Open source isn't IBM. It isn't a company; it doesn't make cold-blooded commercial decisions; it is a community based on freedom of ideas, mutual benefit and congenital antipathy towards secrets. It could make the promise to fix any flaws because it has nothing to hide: any error will be obvious to all, and thus, most likely, honest.

Open source is built on good faith. SCO's errors were in not understanding that and applying outdated rules to a new world. Its reward has been to richly demonstrate the underlying strengths of free software and the bankruptcy of old ideas. Thanks, SCO — but, really, you needn't have bothered.