Editor's Note: SCO Will Be Victim of Linux's Success
Jan 16, 2004, 23:30 (28 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)
Re-Imagining Linux Platforms to Meet the Needs of Cloud Service Providers
By Brian Proffitt
In some school somewhere in any given country, two students are
lining up for a fight. Heated words are exchanged, faces are
flushed with anger. Epithets regarding ancestry, sexual alignment,
or gender are most likely hurled at each other just before clenched
fists amateurishly start flailing away.
Universally, in these schools, a certain phenomenon will occur.
A crowd of fellow students will gather around the combatants,
trying to catch a glimpse of the impending battle. Those who are
more belligerent will shout comments to the fighters, trying to egg
on the fight more quickly.
More and more students will rush over as the crowd grows, until
the inevitable arrival of a faculty member, who recognizes the
heated sounds of a fight crowd and plunges in to grab the fighters
and haul their sorry butts off to the office. The crowd, of course,
scatters like leaves in the wind at the first sign of
Though such fights can happen at any time in any social
situation, the ones at school, among the young whose emotions are
running rampant, are a common experience for many of us, regardless
of where we live. For some of us, it is an embarassing,
There is a group mentality common in many, if not all, cultures
that draws people to conflicts, especially the small-scale ones. No
one in their right mind would wander into a war zone to see what
was what, but there is some sort of odd pull that compels people to
watch fights that are not likely to directly harm them.
I am no sociologist, so maybe one can explain this phenomenon to
me. My amateur's guess is that it has something to do with our
early tribal need to find out which tribal leader held the most
power in the pecking order.
There is another group mentality that many capitalists would be
very familiar with, though the best example of it I have ever
personally seen was in a communist nation. It is the economic rule
that describes what happens when a certain item is in high demand
when its supply is too low to meet such needs. People will, even if
they don't need the item, seek such an item out because they know
others want the item, too. This is what is known as speculative
In the US, good (if rather goofy) examples of this were the
Cabbage Patch Doll craze of 1986, or the Tickle Me Elmo hysteria
exactly 10 years later. I never saw these first hand, but I saw
something similar in the old USSR in 1987.
There, food and goods shortages led to long lines of Soviet
citizens outside of stores on a daily basis. As I passed through
the GUM department store in Moscow one day, I saw a line quickly
start to form outside one of the kiosks. I could not read or speak
Russian, but from the window display this was clearly a shoe kiosk.
Another member of my group asked our guide what was being sold that
attracted such a fast-forming line and she informed us that a new
shipment of women's shoes had just come in.
This new shipment illicted such a strong response because either
people were going to be able to wear the shoes or they would be
able to sell or trade them for something they could use later on.
It was a stark reality for an American to see, which is why when I
see full-scale speculative demand here at home, I tend to be very
cyncial and slightly sickened.
There are, of course, various degrees of demand. When it's
full-tilt crazy speculative demand, it's invariably bad. Who places
high value on Cabbage Patch Dolls any more, other than children and
the assorted collectors on eBay? It's a temporary rush of
excitement and hysteria, and not something that lasts.
But when tempered with a healthy caution and realism, demand,
even it's a bit speculative, can be a long-term good thing. Linux's
demand is doing quite well right now and I think it is partly
because of the result of the two phenomenons of conflict-draw and
speculative demand that has risen Linux's popularity in the near
The conflict I am talking about is, of course, SCO's recent
ventures into attacking the GPL and trying to hijack the Linux
kernel any way they can. For it is the kernel they are going after
now, not the operating system as a whole. If this were not the
case, they would be suing distribution companies, not developers or
(if they ever actually do it) users.
But in all of their actions that have stirred and infuriated
those in the Linux community, what have they really accomplished?
Based on the recent results reported by Red Hat, HP, IBM, and even
Sun for the last quarter of 2003, not a single damned thing to harm
In fact, I could very easily make the argument that the Linux
community owes Darl McBride a huge thank-you note for all of the
help his company has given to Linux over the last year. That is, I
would if I didn't realize that this popularity might actually be
working in SCO's favor.
If SCO had behaved normally, they would have sued IBM, issued a
few preliminary press statements explaining why, then quietly faded
into the background for the next few years while the case was
decided in court. A few trial updates would have surfaced in the
final days of the case, then the decision would be reported and all
parties would deal with the verdict.
But SCO is not behaving normally for a litigant in a $3 billion
trial. They are loud. They are boastful. They are giving all signs
that they are very likely bluffing. And, because they are being
this way, they are attracting attention.
The technical media, the mainstream media, and now Wall Street
analysts are shining the spotlight on Linux-the-operating-system.
And, inevitably, people are starting to look at this conflict and
the item-in-demand within the center of conflict, and starting to
wonder if this Linux is something they might want to try?
After all, they think, if a small company is willing to sue big
IBM for $3 billion just to prove they own a piece of Linux, then
maybe this Linux thing is something we should look into. It's not
like we have any love for Microsoft.
Novell's purchase of SUSE and Ximian raised the temperature on
this demand, too. If a veneraable favorite like Novell is banking
on Linux, IT managers are thinking, it could be something I need
The SCO fight attracts the attention. The prize holds the
attention and stirs up the demand, making Linux more and more
Clearly, this conflict is not the sole reason for
Linux's recent growth in sales and deployments. The aforementioned
Novell acquisitions, IBM's marketing, and the sheer power of the
grass-roots effort of thousands of systems admins and programmers
who already knew how good Linux is can sum up the overall reasons
why Linux is starting to take off. I do not want to give SCO that
I would rather not given them any credit at all, but
objectively, I don't think it can be avoided. Because this
success is exactly what SCO wants to happen.
SCO wants Linux to succeed. The more Linux succeeds, the more
valuable it becomes. While some have derided McBride and Co. as a
bunch of liars, I will point out that they have told the truth
about at least one thing: they are not trying to harm Linux. Why
should they? If SCO can prove the Linux kernel has unauthorized
pieces of SCO's code, they believe they will have control of a
technology that has the capability to take on and even beat
By loudly fighting over it, they are elevating its value. If IBM
had responded with its own rhetoric, then SCO would have been very
happy. In a public battle with IBM, they may have been able to
maneuver IBM into a settlement. But Big Blue didn't fall for the
move, which puts SCO in the position of being more shrill with each
passing week--and now they have to hold on and wait until 2005.
That was SCO's first miscalculation.
SCO's next miscalculation was misjudging the importance of the
GPL. By actively using the license, SCO may have tripped itself up,
since they apparently distributed their "stolen" code right along
with Caldera OpenLinux under the GPL. Whoops. So now SCO finds
itself in the interesting position of having to attack the GPL.
But you can't have Linux kernel (which SCO wants) without the
GPL (which SCO doesn't want). Plus, attacking the license as
unconsitutional is just silly and, yes, shrill.
But their last miscalculation, which hit me this morning when I
saw the IBM and Sun financial reports and made me laugh out loud,
is perhaps the most ironic: whether SCO played a small hand in it
or not, Linux the operating system may have become too popular for
SCO to get a hold of Linux the kernel.
Billions, with a B, of dollars of business is being made by
Linux vendors now. Billions. Linux is now a prize so valuable that
I don't think these vendors will stop at anything to let it fall
into the hands of any one company. Keeping Linux open is vital to
their business models, since keeping it shared means a level
playing field and a target that's impossible for competitors to
Open source means shared development efforts and the ability to
adapt and change to customer needs much faster than any proprietary
model. Letting SCO (or any other single organization) have sole
control of the Linux kernel would potentially disrupt a business
model with many billions of dollars at stake. Who seriously thinks
the major vendors would let that happen?
But that doesn't stop SCO from trying. I think they see Linux as
a technology, a commodity that can be bought or litigated into
their control. If they had tried this move five years ago, they may
have been able to pull it off. But, five years ago, not many would
put a lot of faith in the success of a free operating system and
the kernel within. They may have waited too long to make their
Now, Linux is very strong and growing fast. Deployments are
rapidly increasing, the new 2.6 kernel is bringing more features to
the market. These are exciting times for Linux. The fact that one
small Utah company is willing to risk so much to try to own a piece
of it just proves this point.
Even if I am wrong and SCO is just trying to make a quick grab
of cash on the inflated stocks, then we will very likely see what
out-of-control speculative demand does after the smoke clears: when
people get what they need, the market will very quickly vanish and
move on to other speculations.
So here is my suggestion for the new year to the Linux
community. Don't worry about SCO. One way or another, they will
soon quit this fight when they realize the prize is unattainable.
Enjoy the fruits of your labors, as Linux rises under its own power
to heights never before seen.
On to some housekeeping: next week is the LinuxWorld Conference
and Expo at the Javitts Center in New York City. I will be
attending, and I hope to see many of you there.
I'll be joining The Linux Show broadcast at 2 p.m. on Jan. 21
and 22, so that's one place I'll be for sure. If you have any
comments or critiques for the site, I'm always happy to meet
readers in person.
As long-time readers of the site know, when LT attends a
conference, the news feed tends to be a bit more sporadic than the
usual scheduled feed, as I tend to post stories up as they come in.
Please bear with us next week and be assured that my trusty Yellow
Dog notebook will be wirelessly working away from the show floor as
much as possible.
Before the show is the Jan. 19 Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday
here in the US, so this will be an extended three-day weekend
coming up for Linux Today and LinuxPlanet. Adjust your expectations