Enterprise Unix Roundup -- Tugging SCO's Strings

By Michael Hall (Send Email)
Posted Apr 22, 2004


Main     In Other News     Security Roundup     Tips of the Trade
Early speculation that BayStar's threat to call back in $20 million in financing might represent a swift demise for SCO was squelched when BayStar said it's the product line that has to go. Delegating super-user privileges to assistant administrators? Then sudo might be for you.

There's no denying SCO has had better weeks than this one. Consider:

  • Late last week, SCO investor BayStar called back $20 million of its investment in the company. The news seemed to trigger a plummet in SCO's stock and may have been behind a shakeup in the company's management.
  • Open Source Risk Management (OSRM, previously covered here), says its six-month investigation of the Linux kernel revealed no copyright infringement. It's going to begin offering insurance to enterprises and developers using Linux to guarantee a vigorous legal defense if SCO comes a' knocking.
  • For whatever reason, Red Hat's back in court asking that its suspended lawsuit against SCO be resumed, thus renewing the possibility of another front being opened in SCO's ongoing litigation wars.

BayStar's silence on its request for a refund was a source of much idle speculation through the early part of this week. This changed when news broke Wednesday that the investor, perhaps realizing that merely prying its $20 million from SCO would be fairly difficult, commented on what SCO must do to restore its confidence. In short, the investor said SCO must get new management, quit being so publicly obnoxious, and (to the likely dismay of Linux supporters who might have hoped BayStar perceived a legal Vietnam in the making) quit worrying about pushing product because "it is diverting resources from going where they would have the most value -- the intellectual property process."

SCO's initial response seemed moderately defiant, with spokesman Blake Stowell saying the company's board likes its management and SCO's UNIX products are its core.

In this case, we're inclined to think the investment guys have it straight, at least where product is concerned: SCO wouldn't be on its rampage if it were doing well in its intended market; it simply isn't, and it hasn't been since some time in past decade.

But where many pundits spent the last week calling BayStar's demand for a refund a potential death blow, we're not so sure. Our interpretation of the company's remark about "the intellectual property process" being where SCO needs to spend its time is that BayStar considers its millions well-spent if they continue to be directed at suing the pants off anyone who knows how to spell "UNIX" and once used a dumb terminal connected to a Unix derivative. It might not be the best way to win friends (and BayStar does appear to be concerned about SCO's antagonistic penchant for "open letters" and public carping), but the venture capital firm seems to think this is a way to turn a tidy profit.

In Other News

» We were moderately entertained to see Linus Torvalds recently shoot down kvetching from SUSE's CTO about the practice of "backporting" in the Linux kernel. Backporting is the process of taking features from the newest Linux kernel (currently 2.6) and introducing them to past kernels. This went on during the move from 2.2 to 2.4 with features like USB support.

So, just who would have an issue with users of slightly older 2.4-based distributions getting useful features from a new kernel? Mainly companies with an investment in pushing commercial versions of Linux like SUSE and, as that linked report indicates, Mandrake. In both cases, there is a dependency on a relatively early release of highly anticipated software, like a new kernel, to drive shrinkwrap sales.

Both companies are piqued by Red Hat's backporting practices, allegedly because of concerns over "fragmentation," but more likely because they realize Red Hat can take its time and burn through a little of its massive lead in the much more conservative enterprise market by promising "more of the same" with the incremental improvements backporting brings. Considering SUSE's recent attempt to flood the field with a less-than-top-secret "review copy," which every hobbyist reviewer in North America seemed to get hold of months before it could be purchased, we can see how Red Hat's backporting might be seen as a bit of counterspin to the marketing game plan.

What should an enterprise user make of the whole thing? We'll just point out, as we have in the past, that there are plenty of good reasons to wait patiently for a new kernel to make its way through the QA process -- however long it takes. We're with Mr. Torvalds and Red Hat on this one.

» In other SUSE news, several places reported Microsoft has hired the SUSE project manager who delivered the city of Munich to Linux during an upgrade from Windows NT4, despite deep discount offers from Microsoft. If ya' can't beat 'em, hire their best sales guy and let him beat 'em -- we guess.

» On Monday, Sun announced several initiatives aimed at boosting Solaris deployments by offering big discounts over comparable Red Hat and Microsoft offerings: $800,000 for a 2,000 unit Solaris deployment comes out to about half as much as 2,000 Red Hat ES subscriptions, and about a fifth as much as Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition with support.

» Did you ever think you'd see the day when a Web site reviewed Apple's enterprise Unix offerings? This is the week for it.

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