What is SCO and why is everyone talking about them?

Recently, a company, SCO, has been getting a lot of press. According to their website,

What exactly does that mean, and why all the hub bub?

SCO claims it holds copyright to parts of the Linux code. However, SCO for a long time refused to make clear which parts these would be, and only sent out threatening letters to subdue people into buying SCO licenses. People are angry because (1) they feel they are being scammed and (2) it is a threat to the acceptance of Linux.

See coverage at Computerworld

Long story short and simplified (for my sake, not yours): SCO claims it owns something that was used to make LINUX, so they’re pushing around a lot of companies that use LINUX (Google’s a prominent one) to get license fees and such.

SCO aquired the rights to the UNIX source code. Several vendors, including IBM, Sun Microsystems, HP and SGI licensed the right to create operating systems based on UNIX; each making modifications and tailoring their operating system for their customers.

SCO also put out a UNIX operating system, although no one really uses it.

SCO claims that, unless otherwise stated in a contract, they own the rights to work derived from the base UNIX. IBM has heavily modified UNIX for their operating system AIX. SCO is claiming that IBM took some of the useful AIX and Sequent (another flavor) and gave them to the Linux community. SCO claims that these additions that were given made Linux materially better (and they did), but SCO didn’t get any money for it. Linux isn’t paying license fees to SCO.

SCO demanded reparations from IBM. IBM told them where they could put theire reparations. SCO cancelled IBM’s license to UNIX and claims IBM is no longer authorized to distribute or maintain AIX, among other things. IBM told them where they could put their license.

SCO sued. It’s now in the courts. SCO refuses to show what, exactly, they believe was stolen from them and the few times they have come close to specificity, it has been shown that they didn’ t own the rights to the code, anyway.

SCO is a broken down company with a crap product that is trying to make money by charging everyone else that managed to do something useful with UNIX and UNIX-like software.

http://groklaw.net is a wonderful resource for understanding what is going on. It’s run by a paralegal that breaks down the legal stuff for those unfamiliar with legal topics. Some of it’s real fun to read.

Anyway, outside of the geek community, this isn’t getting much news but if you are part of the technical community, it swings from hilarious to infuriating.

The other posters have already answered the OP’s question, here’s a link to Wikipedia’s extensive coverage of the lawsuit.

As I understand it, the issue is this (as far as Linux is concerned; IBM can take care of itself). Linux is open source, which means that anyone can in principle contribute to the Linux code. The code has to be accepted by Linus Torvalds, but he judges only by functionality. Anyone who uses Linux as the basis for development must make his code open source as well. Now SCO has claimed that some parts of the Linux kernel have been copied from their proprietary code. They have shown the disputed portions to a few people, but have not made it public. Linux developers have counter-claimed that SCO has in turn used parts of the Linux code which, if true, would apparently require to open source all their code. One problem is that the open source licence has never been tested in courts and US courts are, at present, notably hostile to any business-like activity that does not lead at least potentially to profits and could rule that the open source licence is indistinguishable from public domain.

Amid all the claims and counter-claims, I haven’t any idea what to believe nor can I guess how it will play itself out. One thing is clear is that the intellectual property law that was intended to promote innovation is being used increasingly to stifle it.

The also aquired the rights to the name UNIX, which they purchased from Novell, IIRC, who purchesed it from AT&T.

Home users don’t use it. Big businesses use it quite a bit. We used it, in addition to AIX etc. out at Lockheed Martin when I worked there a year ago. I’ve also worked for two other companys who used it exclusivly.

Admittedly, its been a few years since I worked as a Unix admin, I am primarily a wintel server admin these days…or I would be if I was employed, but it was/is far from a crap product, even back then it was better than the Linux systems I have worked on recently, as it should be being that it was expensive as hell.

Source: http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,3959,1227128,00.asp

Source: http://infoworld.com/article/03/09/10/HNtorvaldssco_1.html

Both articles are worth a read. The second one contains Linus Torvalds’ letter to SCO.

Then there is Linus’ Top Ten SCO Barbs, complete with source links to each one.

From SCOs website:

So note, SCO was around a lot longer (I recall using their PC Unix a long time ago), and Caldera bought their assets and the rights to use their name, apparently.

Good info, especially that Wikipedia article summarizes it neatly. Slashdot has new headlines about SCO’s claims almost everyday, there’s a huge archive of them already. As for their achievements back then when SCO still was a respectable company, check out this chart of unix history.

Hmm…I haven’t ever used SCO’s Unix, but you’re the first person I’ve ever heard who’s used it who had anything good to say about it. Every other Unix guy I know told me it was crap and that Linux or *BSD were far better.

Looking quickly, this article, for example, says:

Can you tell me in what way it was superior to the free OSs?

Talking about “SCO Unix” as an OS kind of confuses the issue, since there’s two seperate Unix versions they maintain, with very different histories, though I’m not sure exactly how different they are in practice today since I haven’t used either recently. OpenServer was the original SCO Unix, and that was its official name for awhile, before it got changed to OpenServer. It was developed in-house by SCO during the 80s (sort of… It was originally created by Microsoft under the name XENIX, then Microsoft farmed out development of XENIX to SCO, then finally SCO bought XENIX and renamed it after Microsoft decided to go with just DOS). OpenServer is (or was, last time I used it, back around '98) a weird mix of the AT&T and BSD flavors, but not really of either family, and had some stuff that was all its own.

UnixWare, on the other hand, is the direct descendent of the original version of Unix created back in Bell Labs so many years ago, though obviously it’s been changed quite a bit over the years. As has been mentioned, the original owner AT&T sold it to Novell (back in the late 80s, I believe), who tried to market it under the name of UnixWare, but didn’t have much success with that. They eventually sold it to SCO in 1995 and SCO made UnixWare their primary product, but they’ve continued to support and release new versions of OpenServer.

I remember talk awhile back that they would phase OpenServer out and eventually move just to UnixWare, but that never happened, probably because of pressure from the companies that use OpenServer and don’t want to migrate to something else. It also may have something to do with the fact that SCO is essentially a different company now than it was back in 1995, since it was bought and absorbed by Caldera (who then changed their name to SCO), as was pointed out earlier in the thread. And, of course, it’s through SCO’s ownership of UnixWare that they’ve made the claim that certain parts of the Linux code violate their copyright.

Amokj: Yeah, I knew about them buying UnixWare and having both OSs. I haven’t heard anything good about either of them (except that for a while, SCO Unix was the only one available for x86). I was just really surprised to hear bdgr actually saying it was superior to Linux…I’ve never heard that before. More along the lines of the article I linked previously:

And it’s not just since the lawsuit: it’s since always. I just wanted to know what bdgr thought was good about it…

OpenServer had one major thing going for it - stability. A properly configured OpenServer box would run for months or years without crashing. This was compared to hours or days for Microsoft’s Windows server products (pre Win NT 4, anyway). As a result, OpenServer was used for a lot of small network solutions like doctor’s office billing systems, where you weren’t going to have a full time IT technician around. OpenServer could be relied on to run without crashing.

UnixWare’s big selling point was ease of use. It grafted a very usable GUI onto SysV Unix, and made Unix much easier to administer for the casual UNIX user. It was used in environments like those where OpenServer was useful - where you needed a multitasking OS, but didn’t want to have a full time tech on staff.

In their day, both OpenServer and Unixware were good products that were useful, albeit very expensive. Linux was initially an unreliable product under constant development that was missing many features that one or the other SCO Unixes had. But development of both has basically been abandoned since 2001, and Linux has been getting steadily better at a tremendous rate. Today, there’s no compelling reason to run OpenServer or Unixware anymore, but that wasn’t always true. And I would imagine that steadily declining licensing revenues from OpenServer and UnixWare are a big part of the reason that SCO (formerly Caldera) embarked on their current crazy wave of litigation.

Well, again its been a while since I had anything to do with either linux or openserver on a dialy basis, but it was very stable and it just seems that every thing I have had to do on a linux box took 10 times the steps that it took on the opeserver machines I used to work on. Maybe its my aging memory…but just simple stuff like setting up xwindows connections seem to be a much bigger hassle on the Debian box I was working on the other day.