Enterprise Unix Roundup: Law and Order, Unix Edition

By Brian Proffitt (Send Email)
Posted Apr 30, 2008


Brian Proffitt
Two trials have captured the attention of the IT community this week: the California court drama of the Hans Reiser murder trial and the quieter but equally dramatic SCO vs. Novell case, which finally went to trial on Tuesday. One trial ends; one trial starts. Both of this week's court cases could have far-reaching implications for the Unix and Linux communities.

In the first trial, NameSys founder and ReiserFS inventor Hans Reiser was found guilty Monday of the first-degree murder of his estranged wife Nina Reiser. The case captured the attention of Oakland and then the rest of the country, after the national media picked up on it. What grabbed everyone's attention were the odd circumstances of the case: no body, the unusual claims of Nina Reiser's lover that he'd killed several people himself (but not Nina), and the eccentricities of Reiser himself.

The Roundup is not the place to second-guess the jury's decision, but there is the immediate impact of the the conviction's effect on ReiserFS, which is still the default filesystem for SUSE Linux Enterprise Server and Debian GNU/Linux. The filesystem is also mainlined into the Linux kernel.

Enterprise Unix Roundup

Beyond the typical social aversion that could crop up from SUSE's parent company Novell and the kernel and Debian communities for being associated with Reiser's work, the more practical concern right now is the latest stable version is ReiserFS 3. ReiserFS 4 was just getting started when Nina Reiser went missing (now presumed killed), and it seems unlikely at this point that it will be moving forward.

There's a fairly comprehensive analysis of this situation over on ZDNet. It examines where ReiserFS is now and what might possibly replace it. It's recommended reading for Unix and Linux aficionados alike, since some of the potential filesystems are already in use on Unix platforms.

As that case draws to a close (for now), another long-going case is just getting officially started in trial this week. As SCO vs. Novell got going on Tuesday, being heard is the last whimper of the years-long claims from The SCO Group that some of its intellectual property found its way (through IBM) into the Linux kernel.

In case you aren't a regular reader of the Web site Groklaw, here's a summary of the past five years:

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SCO: You stole our code!
IBM: Did not!
SCO: Did so!
Novell: Hey, wait, who's code?
SCO: Our code!
Novell: Nuh-uh! Ours!
SCO: No, it's our code! Ours! Ours! Ours!
Grown-up Judge: It's Novell's.
Novell: Hah! Pay up!
SCO: We're broke.
Novell, IBM, Red Hat, Rest of the World: What?!?!?

Which brings us to this week's trial, where what started as an effort to prove SCO's ownership of the Unix intellectual property vs. Novell's has devolved into a how-much-money-does-SCO-owe-Novell trial. The few license fees SCO got for its wildly ignored SCOsource program are definitely on the table.

While this trial has degenerated into nuisance status for almost everyone involved, it has been an interesting journey into how not to sue companies heavily involved in open source. When one party in the discussion has all of its code out in full view of, well, everyone, it's a little hard to make an accusation of IP theft stick. Especially when the aggrieved party isn't inclined to share exactly what was stolen.

Being a big believer in the "that which does not kill us, makes us stronger" philosophy, I can see a lot of positives that have come out of the SCO fiasco. It's certainly made the Unix and Linux communities at large more aware of the legal missiles pointed at software. And awareness is a good line of defense in any adverse situation.

Brian Proffitt is managing editor of JupiterWeb's Linux/Open Source channel, which includes Linux Today, LinuxPlanet, and AllLinuxDevices.

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