SCO begins shipping OpenServer 6

SCO began shipping its latest OpenServer update, version 6, adding security and performance enhancements.

The SCO Group is in the headlines more often for its legal battles than its products these days, but on Wednesday the software maker wrapped up three years of development work and began shipping a major update of its Unix operating system, SCO OpenServer 6.

The software, codenamed Legend, has been in beta testing since last year and was originally scheduled to ship in the first quarter, but its completion date slid a bit, a SCO spokesman acknowledged.

The update is intended to modernize OpenServer, which SCO targets at small- and medium-size businesses. It supports file sizes up to 1T byte, increases memory support from 4G bytes to 64G bytes, and adds new security features. Performance enhancements were a major focus: At a launch event in New York, SCO executives said their benchmark tests showed OpenServer 6 running two and three times faster than SCO's last OpenServer update, version 5.0.7.

SCO is fighting to stay relevant in a competitive server operating system market that includes Linux, Windows, and Unix vendors like IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems that do significantly more business than SCO, which saw its revenue sink to US$43 million last year -- down 46 percent from 2003. Its highly publicized lawsuit against IBM for allegedly violating SCO's Unix copyrights in IBM's Linux work costs SCO millions each quarter. As of April 30, SCO was down to US$14.2 million in cash and liquid assets, having used US$17.7 million in cash over the prior six months.

One customer at SCO's OpenServer 6 launch event, Home Hardware Stores technical specialist Stan Hubble, said he's unfazed by SCO's financial and legal issues. Hubble works on development of a custom inventory management application that is used by around 350 of Home Hardware Stores' 1,100 independently operated stores throughout Canada. The 15-year-old application runs on OpenServer. "They were the most stable game in town at the time," Hubble said of the decision in 1990 to choose the operating system. "There weren't really other choices."

Hubble said his customers, Home Hardware's store operators, haven't been clamoring for advances in OpenServer but will likely appreciate the new version's capabilities. He expects upgrade decisions to be driven by hardware lifecycles: Most of Hubble's clients use Hewlett-Packard Co. servers, and as those die or are retired, they upgrade.

SCO partner and reseller Deepak Thadani, president of SysIntegrators, expects strong upgrade demand from his customers for OpenServer 6. "The large file system support is the big thing," he said. "That was a real limitation on OpenServer 5."

Thadani's New York firm serves clients including insurance and health care companies, which he expects to jump at the scalability and performance enhancements offered in OpenServer 6. He expects the software to appeal to existing OpenServer users as well as to Linux users that might achieve lower operating costs by migrating.

Like Hubble, Thadani doesn't consider SCO's corporate complications a problem for those using its technology. "The customer trusts the reseller," he said. "If I tell my customer 'this is the right way to go,' they trust me."

SCO held its launch event at Yankee Stadium, and SCO Chief Executive Officer Darl McBride took advantage of the setting to infuse his remarks with baseball metaphors. "We're in the middle of a comeback here," McBride told the gathered crowd of customers, partners and press. "We're putting on our rally caps. Some people say 'you're too far down, you can't come back.' To those people I would say, did you watch the game last night here at Yankee Stadium?'"

The Yankees staged a stunning comeback Tuesday night, rallying from eight runs down to beat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 20-11. Wednesday afternoon, following SCO's event, the baseball team lost to the Devil Rays, 5-3.