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SCO's Linux licence will create backlash

By targeting end users, SCO is trying avoid a fight with Linux's largest supporters - but it seems to have missed one important detail

By targeting end users in its legal fight against Linux, SCO is making some very powerful enemies, and should expect a legal backlash, according to analyst firm Datamonitor.

Since March, SCO has been embroiled in a legal fight against IBM for alleged intellectual property infringement. According to SCO, IBM broke copyright law by inserting some of SCO's proprietary Unix code into the Linux operating system. SCO this week launched a licensing programme aimed at convincing companies using Linux systems to buy a licence protecting them from legal action.

Linux commands a significant and growing share of the market for Web servers, and is increasingly seen as a major competitor for Unix and Microsoft on high-end servers, mainframes and desktops.

In a commentary published on Thursday, Datamonitor argued that SCO's strategy of targeting end users is likely to backfire. "SCO appears to have forgotten that some of the biggest Linux users are the Linux vendors and supporters themselves... there are plenty of Linux supporters and users who have deep enough pockets to challenge its copyright infringement claims: Oracle, Dell, HP and IBM," the company said.

Datamonitor said it is in the interests of Linux users and vendors to challenge SCO's claims of copyright infringement and "force SCO to prove its claims in a court of law".

Red Hat, the largest Linux vendor, has so far resisted taking retaliatory action against SCO, but was keen to reassure its customers that they are not required to take out a licence.

In a letter sent out this week, the company said that "no one has established publicly or in court that any Unix code has been infringed... nothing has been proven to establish that a license is needed". The company also confirmed that it has had no direct contact from SCO concerning the case.

If some customers do begin signing SCO licences, others could quickly follow, according to a Gartner advisory on the matter published this week.

George Weiss, vice president and research director at Gartner, said it would take only "a few large enterprises" to negotiate a licence fee before others join them.

This could create a "hybrid open-source and proprietary software contract", which would mean that Linux use would remain licence-free as long as certain features of the operating system are not used.

According to SCO, Linux kernel 2.4 includes code that aids symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) scaling. Weiss said that enterprises that are only using Linux for simple tasks -- such as basic Web serving or as a firewall -- will not require the latest version or the SMP functionality and will be able to "fence off" the systems from licence obligations, while more powerful systems could be liable to pay licence fees.


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