Ruling against SCO provides 'small relief' for Linux users

Ruling against SCO provides 'small relief' for Linux users

Vendor's legal threats were already discounted -- but Microsoft's are another story

A federal judge's ruling over a week ago that Novell, not The SCO Group, legally owns the copyrights for Unix thrust the intellectual property battles begun by SCO in early 2003 back into the IT spotlight.

But several IT managers and industry analysts said this week that while the decision certainly was a significant development, they long ago stopped viewing SCO's legal campaign against Linux backers as a real threat to users of the open-source operating system.

Some added, though, that a potentially more serious threat still exists, in the form of Microsoft's claim earlier this year that Linux and other open-source technologies infringe on 235 of its patents.

Jon Callas, who is both chief technology officer and chief security officer at PGP, said the pro-Novell ruling by U.S. District Judge Dale A. Kimball was "a small relief" for his company. The California-based vendor of digital cryptography and security tools uses Red Hat Linux and Novell's SUSE Linux software internally, and it sells server-level security products that run on a custom version of Linux.

Callas said that when SCO first sued IBM, Novell and other companies, some of its legal claims seemed credible enough that PGP officials brainstormed about what they could do if the company had to move away from Linux. PGP set contingency plans to switch to the FreeBSD version of Unix if need be, but it has never come to that -- and last Friday's ruling further calms any lingering concerns about the legal fight, he said.

"I haven't thought that they had much of a leg to stand on," Callas said of SCO and its legal claims. SCO may well appeal Kimball's ruling, he added, "but it's kind of like the black knight in the Monty Python movie who lost his arms and legs and said, 'Come back here and I'll bite your kneecaps.' Linux is definitely in a safer place."

George Weiss, an analyst at Gartner, agreed via e-mail that Kimball's ruling should help relax any Linux users who were worried about running after SCO filed its lawsuits. But he cautioned that there are still potential legal fights ahead from vendors such as Microsoft. "Don't forget that Microsoft has stepped up to the plate on the patent infringement side," Weiss wrote.

Weiss said he has continually recommended to "ultra-risk-sensitive users" that they seek indemnity protection from their vendors and keep Linux deployments to non-mission-critical installations. He even has suggested that they install comparable Unix or Windows systems as backups to Linux machines in case a switch becomes necessary because of legal issues.

Lindon, Utah-based SCO initially sued IBM in March 2003 for allegedly infringing on its intellectual property rights by submitting some of the Unix source code for use in Linux. SCO later filed similar lawsuits against other vendors, including Novell and Red Hat Inc. It also sued DaimlerChrysler and AutoZone over their use of Linux, although the DaimlerChrysler suit was quickly dismissed by a judge in Michigan.

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