Unix equals open source, period

Even the SCO Group can't escape the surprising reality of today's OS marketplace

It's hard to think of a less likely proponent of open source than the SCO Group. For years, SCO has waged war on Linux and the community that supports it, dragging companies such as IBM and Novell into a seemingly never-ending lawsuit over allegations that the Linux kernel improperly incorporates SCO intellectual property.

Bolstering its own Unix OS against Linux's rapid growth apparently isn't enough for SCO, however. Among SCO's arguments against IBM is a blistering indictment of the GNU GPL (General Public License), which SCO claims is not just unenforceable, but also violates antitrust laws, copyright laws, patent laws, and even the U.S. Constitution itself.

Because so many projects employ the GPL, it's hard to see SCO's assertions as anything but a direct attack on not just the Linux kernel, but open source in general. If SCO succeeds in undermining the GPL, it would throw countless projects into disarray, leaving the movement faced with an uncertain future.

But that's not SCO's intent. At least, it had better not be, considering that SCO has joined the ranks of commercial companies that supply and support open source.

OpenServer 6, the latest version of SCO's flagship OS, now bundles a laundry list of open source software. Its desktop GUI is based on KDE. The Apache Web server is provided, as is the Mozilla browser. Developers can deploy Java Web applications with Apache Tomcat, or if they prefer, they can code in Perl or PHP. The MySQL and PostgreSQL databases are both present. And OpenServer integrates with Windows networks, thanks to code from the Samba project.

Critics have already leveled the charge of hypocrisy at SCO, claiming that OpenServer 6 flies in the face of everything the company has been saying since it began its legal maneuvers years ago. In truth, however, SCO has long been a two-headed beast. On the one hand, I'm convinced that SCO's current business model centers on litigation -- nothing more, nothing less. But that kind of company is going to be a hard sell for all but the most cynical of shareholders.

Now, to maintain even a semblance of a public face, SCO has to play ball in the marketplace. Despite a dwindling market share that seems destined for oblivion, SCO must hang on to some small core of the company to develop and sell its Unix products. And tasked with that goal, not even SCO engineers can escape the astounding reality of the OS market today: that Unix and open source have become synonymous.

SCO was simply the last holdout. Today, there is not a single volume Unix vendor that doesn't count open source as a major part of its business. IBM devotes much more energy to Linux than to AIX these days, and I doubt HP-UX is winning HP many customers on its own. Sun has open sourced Solaris, and its Java Desktop System product is based on the same open source Gnome UI that Unix and Linux users everywhere have come to expect.

The Free Software Foundation has long argued that Linux distributions should really be called GNU/Linux because of the large amount of GNU and GPL code bundled with them. Today, you can lump Unix in that category as well. For all SCO's posturing over who owns the guts of the kernel, GNU's self-referential acronym -- it stands for "GNU's Not Unix" -- seems to have gained an unintended irony.