Update: Microsoft licenses Unix technology from SCO

Open source supporters remain suspicious of move

In a deal that brings together companies that Linux backers consider bogeymen, The SCO Group announced Monday it has shaken hands on a licensing agreement with Microsoft over SCO's Unix operating system.

Through the deal, SCO has licensed Unix technology -- including source code and patents -- to Microsoft, said Chris Sontag, senior vice president and general manager of SCO's SCOsource, a division in charge of managing and protecting the company's Unix intellectual property.

This deal ensures Microsoft is in compliance with SCO's Unix intellectual property and will help Microsoft improve the Unix compatibility of its products, specifically Microsoft Windows Services for Unix, Sontag said.

Windows Services for Unix, now in Version 3.0, consists of different components that bridge the gap between Windows-based and Unix-based systems running in the same network, according to information on Microsoft's Web site.

The product's services include file sharing, remote access and administration, password synchronization, common directory management, a common set of utilities, and a shell, according to Microsoft's Web site.

Microsoft didn't immediately return calls seeking comment on the deal.

The deal is not a reward from Microsoft for SCO's recent legal challenges to the Linux operating system, Sontag said. Microsoft has been very vocal about the threat that Linux poses to its business.

"That is simply not the case," he said. "This is a standard, straight-up Unix licensing agreement like many we've done in the past" with other companies, he said.

Seeing Microsoft playing nice with SCO doesn't surprise advocates of software that users can freely modify, copy, share, and redistribute, also known as free software.

"I'm not surprised to see Microsoft supporting efforts to make free software look bad," said Bradley Kuhn, executive director of the Free Software Foundation (FSF), a tax-exempt charity that fosters the development and use of free software. "Microsoft is supportive of anything that goes against free software."

Kuhn also complains that SCO is being loud in its allegations while refusing to be specific about its claims, a common grievance that those in the Linux camp have been aiming at SCO. SCO officials have said the company will, in time, present concrete evidence in court.

Until evidence is put forth, the FSF deems SCO's allegations to be baseless and condemns what it considers to be a SCO campaign to spread confusion and fear about open source and free software, Kuhn said Tuesday.

For example, the FSF has inferred from various SCO pronouncements and documents that SCO is alleging intellectual property infringements in the FSF's GNU software, Kuhn said. Thus, the FSF has been in touch with SCO to request that SCO be specific about the problematic code, but has received no response.

A spokesman for SCO said Tuesday that SCO is finding its code illegally copied in the Linux kernel and outside the Linux kernel, but has not yet done analysis on the GNU specific components yet.

GNU is operating system software developed by the FSF that is included with the Linux kernel, which is why Linux is sometimes referred to as GNU/Linux. Many have used the GNU/Linux operating system to create myriad versions of Linux, tailored to a wide range of user needs. Popular commercial versions include those from Red Hat Inc. and SuSE Linux AG. The FSF is confident it has done its due diligence to ensure that its GNU software doesn't infringe on any copyrights, Kuhn said.

The deal appears to be a normal Microsoft attempt to make sure it is honoring properly SCO's intellectual property rights, IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky said. Those advancing a conspiracy theory to explain the timing of the deal will have a hard time proving it, he said.

"I'm not sure there's a way to support a quid pro quo notion. It is certainly an interesting theory, but it's one that would be almost impossible to prove or disprove," he said.

Moreover, using SCO as its "henchman" against Linux and IBM would be a bad move for Microsoft, said Ted Schadler, a Forrester Research Inc. analyst.

"I discount the notion that Microsoft is secretly funding SCO's lawsuit," he said.

The announcement's timing might raise eyebrows, but the most likely motivation behind the deal is Microsoft's desire to make sure it isn't infringing on any of SCO's Unix intellectual property, Schadler said Tuesday.

Asked to comment on the news of the licensing deal at a press conference Monday, Oracle Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Larry Ellison seemed to have no compunction about drawing a link between the agreement and SCO's litigation. "Bill [Gates] is innovating. Microsoft has always had incredible innovation. You've had advanced bundling and what you see now is extreme litigation. They have a lot of experience with extreme litigation, actually," he said.

The SCO-Microsoft announcement comes little over two months after SCO filed suit against IBM and days after SCO said it will suspend its Linux business.

Microsoft once licensed Unix source code from AT&T Corp., Unix's creator, but that license ran out after Microsoft abandoned the Unix-related project that had prompted the licensing, Sontag said.

The licensing agreement announced Monday is one of two SCO signed in its second fiscal quarter, ended in April, worth a combined total of over $10 million, Sontag said. He declined to be more specific on how much the Microsoft deal was worth.

SCO and Microsoft both have grievances against Linux. SCO, which owns Unix, claims Unix code has been illegally copied into Linux. Meanwhile, Microsoft sees Linux as a rising threat to its desktop and server operating systems.

The kernel of the Linux operating system is developed by a team of volunteers led by Linux creator Linus Torvalds. The Linux kernel is available to anyone who wants it free of charge. Moreover, it is distributed under the FSF's General Public License (GPL) that gives users access to the Linux source code, and permission to modify, copy, share and redistribute it. A GPL condition is that if users redistribute the software, they must share their changes and improvements. Linux is the best-known example of open-source software.

By contrast, most commercial software vendors, such as Microsoft, rarely, if ever, disclose the source code of their programs, and normally forbid users from freely modifying, copying or distributing them, an approach sometimes called "proprietary."

SCO has become increasingly reviled in Linux circles in the past two months with its allegations that Unix code has been copied illegally into the Linux operating system's kernel, allegedly violating SCO's intellectual property rights.

SCO's actions over this matter so far include a formal lawsuit against IBM and stern warnings against Linux users and vendors, such as Red Hat and SuSE, that they also might be in violation of SCO's intellectual property. IBM has denied the allegations, while Red Hat and SuSE have brushed off SCO's warnings, saying they are baseless.

-- Joris Evers in San Francisco contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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