Novell's Victory Over SCO Could Have Downside For Linux Users - InformationWeek

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8/13/2007
10:42 AM
Paul McDougall
Paul McDougall
Commentary
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Novell's Victory Over SCO Could Have Downside For Linux Users

The free software world spent the weekend celebrating after a judge nixed SCO's ownership claims over Unix and, by extension, Linux. But the ruling did not specifically address SCO's charge that Linux is a Unix knock off--and a case that could have settled that question for good may now fade away as a result of Friday's decision.

The free software world spent the weekend celebrating after a judge nixed SCO's ownership claims over Unix and, by extension, Linux. But the ruling did not specifically address SCO's charge that Linux is a Unix knock off--and a case that could have settled that question for good may now fade away as a result of Friday's decision.To recap, Utah federal court judge Dale Kimball on Friday ruled that SCO does not own the Unix operating system and that the rights belong to Novell. The decision eviscerates SCO's four-year-old lawsuit against Novell.

Kimball said that an asset transfer agreement between Novell and SCO did not give SCO ownership over Unix, as SCO claimed. End of story.

What Kimball did not rule on, however, was SCO's allegation that Novell's SUSE Linux distribution is a Unix rip off and thus violates what SCO said was its copyright over Unix. Kimball had previously punted that aspect of the case to an arbitrator in France. A hearing is pending but is now likely moot.

Kimball also ruled in favor of Novell's request that it be allowed to order SCO to drop a lawsuit against IBM in which SCO charged that those parts of Linux that allegedly rip off Unix were contributed to the open source community by IBM.

Kimball has asked both IBM and SCO to submit memos summarizing where they believe the case stands in the aftermath of Friday's SCO v. Novell ruling. It seems likely the action will be dropped: After all, how can SCO continue suing IBM for stepping on rights that SCO doesn't own?

Linux backers are reacting with glee to all of this news. An anonymous blogger who goes by the name 'Pamela Jones' on the anti-SCO Web site Groklaw said over the weekend that he or she would "eat chocolate" to celebrate Novell's victory.

But hold the Godiva and Toblerone for a moment. If I'm a Linux user, do I really want SCO v. IBM to be called off without a definitive ruling on SCO's claims?

A victory by IBM could have quashed for good the notion that Linux infringes on Unix. If the case is dropped, then questions will still linger and might later be revived-by Novell or someone else.

To boot, IBM was winning. Judge Brooke Wells last year tossed 187 out of SCO's 298 claims in the case. Now it appears the game will be called off in the top of the fifth with IBM ahead on the scoreboard.

Novell has not threatened to sue Linux users, but what happens if the company, or its Unix rights, are at some point sold to a more, uh, territorial organization. You know, like Microsoft-which says other parts of Linux infringe on Windows. Indeed, Judge Kimball's affirmation of Novell's ownership of Unix makes the company a more attractive takeover target starting Monday.

And whoever picks up the gauntlet next time may have deeper pockets than SCO to go up against IBM. (Or they might be smart enough not to name as primary defendant a company with $90 billion in annual revenues.)

Bottom line: Novell's victory over SCO could result in one of the big questions around Linux remaining unanswered. That's not good if you're a corporate IT manager contemplating a deployment of the open source OS. Better if SCO v. IBM had been allowed to play through.

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