PARK RIDGE, Ill. A decision by eight consumer giants, most of them Japanese, to throw their support behind Linux has the chief executive officer of SCO Group on the move. Darl McBride, whose company recently launched a legal attack on Linux for alleged contract infringements, will go to Japan this week in an attempt to prove his point with some of the manufacturers that came together last week as the CE Linux Forum (CELF).
McBride, who is fluent in Japanese, will visit with several founding members to show them code samples in which the Linux open-source operating system allegedly damages SCO's Unix business, said an SCO spokesman. CELF's eight founders are Hitachi, Matsushita, NEC, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony and Toshiba. "Members of that consortium are lining up in droves to view that source code," the spokesman said.
Linux proponents saw the formation of CELF by a powerhouse coalition as a vote of confidence for the upstart OS, and further proof that corporate Linux users are not overly concerned about the legal threat from SCO. CELF will focus on the promotion of Linux-based consumer electronics products (see story, below).
"It shows how entrenched Linux has become," said Victor Yodaiken, CEO of FSMLabs Inc. (Socorro, N.M.), a maker of real-time software for Linux. "These [eight consumer] companies are not known as adventurers, and they wouldn't do this if they thought there would be legal repercussions. It's an endorsement of how irreplaceable Linux has become for them."
The rising tide of Linux support was oddly incongruous, however, with the growing concerns of industry observers who viewed evidence of the SCO Group's legal claims. Several analysts said last week that users of Linux need to tread carefully.
"The 1,500 companies who received letters from SCO [about potential infringements] should be worried, big time," said Rob Enderle, a research fellow for the Giga Information Group (Santa Clara, Calif.). Based on what he saw, Enderle said, "The evidence appears to be very compelling."
In the past three months, SCO Group, a small software company that derives royalties from Unix, claimed it had found chunks of its Unix code in Linux. The Lindon, Utah, company filed a billion-dollar lawsuit against IBM Corp., which has promoted Linux, and subsequently sent letters to Fortune 1500 companies warning of potential legal repercussions if they use Linux.
The legal maneuverings caused an uproar in the open-source community, to the point where some of the Linux faithful allegedly peppered SCO executives with threats of violence. At the same time, IBM's competitors began playing to users' concerns. Microsoft Corp. publicly purchased a Unix license and Sun Microsystems Inc. two weeks ago ran ads in The Wall Street Journal and San Jose Mercury News encouraging worried Linux users to switch to a Sun software platform.
The outcry among the Linux community, meanwhile, continued unabated last week. In a paper published on the Internet, Free Software Foundation president Richard Stallman accused SCO of a "smear campaign against the whole GNU/Linux system."
At the same time, Inder Singh, CEO of LynuxWorks (San Jose, Calif.) and chairman of the Embedded Linux Consortium, said that the threat to Linux can be easily sidestepped. Even if instances of infringement are found, he said, software vendors can simply create "patches" to remedy the situation. "There's nothing illegal about implementing the same functionality in a different way," Singh noted.
Moreover, Linux proponents hailed the news of the CE Linux Forum's formation. "The CELF announcement is not a response in any way to SCO, but [it] impacts their adventures the way a herd of stampeding bison creates dust clouds across the plains," said Murry Shohat,executive director of the Embedded Linux Consortium. "SCO is getting buried in dust as more and more of the Fortune 500 take Linux-positive steps."
"It's definitely a vote of confidence," added Jon (Maddog) Hall, executive director of Linux International (Nashua, N.H.), a global organization advocating growth of Linux. "It's a way of saying that SCO, in the end, is not going to block Linux from where it has to go."
Even as Linux supporters gathered emotional steam last week, however, analysts who have seen the alleged code infringements warned that there is real reason for concern.
"I saw what appeared to be a word-for-word copy of about every third line of code in the central module of the Linux kernel," said Enderle of Giga Information Group, who viewed the alleged code violations two weeks ago. "The lines of code contained typos, misspellings and even copyright disclaimers. It appeared to constitute a violation of the license."
Enderle said the CELF companies are "probably betting that much of this will be resolved before they reach the point where they have to make a huge commitment." But if the legal plot thickens, he said, many large corporations will back away from Linux. "If I'm a manager in a large, branded company, the last thing I want is very visible litigation that puts my company's brand name at risk," he said.
Laura DiDio, a senior analyst with the Yankee Group (Boston), another industry analyst who has seen samples of the alleged violations, cautioned that product developers shouldn't lose sight of the critical issues amid all the rhetoric. "The real question customers should be asking [their software suppliers] is, 'Will you indemnify us if SCO prevails?' " said DiDio. "'If you won't, why not? And if you will, to what extent will you indemnify us?'"