August 16, 2004

Commentary: My memorable visit with The SCO Group

Author: Chris Preimesberger

LINDON, Utah -- If you are a regular visitor to these pages, you know that we frequently write about about The SCO Group and its business and litigious activities. The company tends to make news that involves -- and mostly angers -- Linux and Unix users around the world. But while we most often think of The SCO Group as a corporate entity -- an "it"-- that kind of perspective is dehumanizing. I wanted to find out what sort of people work there and what their attitudes were toward the IT business and the world in general.

I'll cut to the quick, if you don't want to read this entire story. There are many people questioning the motives and determination of this small company. Yes, the SCO Group folks sincerely believe the intellectual property rights they own will eventually be borne out in courts of law, and the staff is quite willing to absorb the sticks and stones they are currently encountering on the road to the ultimate vindication they believe they will win. They maintain a long-term view of what the company is trying to accomplish.

More detail? Coming right up

OK, that's the bottom line. If you're busy, then get back to work. If you want more detail on how I came about gathering this information, read on.

Let me set the scene. We were spending a vacation week in the Wasatch Mountain foothills earlier this month visiting relatives who reside in Alpine, Utah, and with friends who own a bed and breakfast in picturesque Park City, about an hour's drive on the other side of the mountain. So it was no problem to visit The SCO Group folks, whose office was literally right down the road -- a few blocks from Interstate 15.

Please note: IANAW (I Am Not A Workaholic) and do not normally schedule business meetings while I'm away on vacation. But I knew there would be some down time on this trip, so I called Blake Stowell, head of media relations for The SCO Group, headquartered in nearby Lindon. We agreed to meet.

My purpose? Well, frankly, I make a lot of business calls to SCO Group on a regular basis. Stowell's two phones are etched in my memory as well as in my cell phone's address book. I've always believed that people should be treated as people, not as voices on the phone or as mere addressees in an email list. When you do business with people, you should meet them in person whenever possible.

So when I suggested we get together for coffee or breakfast, Stowell was gracious. "There really aren't that many opportunities for us to meet personally with journalists," he said. "Not many often come through this area."

SCO Group headquarters in Lindon, Utah.

When I drove up to The SCO Group headquarters, which is a normal-looking, boxy two-story building in the Canopy Group compound, the first thing I noticed is that the front door is deceptive -- it actually isn't THE front door. The front door is a proprietary one, accessible only by using an employee card. The entrance door, where the lobby is located, is actually in the back of the building.

SCO office has normal-looking people

Stowell and two other SCO staff members joined us in the lobby. I saw some other male and female SCO employees coming and going at lunchtime, like any other company. They looked like normal people. The interior of the office was neat and clean, spartan -- almost boring -- in decor. There was a trophy case on one wall, sporting two awards: One was from SD Times for "best software" of some sort.

Stowell, a friendly, quick-to-smile guy in his 30s, suggested we head to Los Hermanos, a local Mexican place. So off we went.

"I suppose you're all wondering why I'm here visiting you on own home turf," I said, once we were seated. I saw no quizzical looks from anybody.

"Whenever I can, I try to meet people I do business with in person. Just good practice all around. Allows me to get to know who I'm working with. On important matters, it helps to know where people are coming from, and they can get to know the same from me."

They all nodded affirmatively.

"I'm going to be candid with you all here: I'm curious to know about your attitude toward your work. Let's face it, you're not working for the most popular company in the world. You know before you come in each morning that you're going to be getting flak from people all day long -- and day in and day out -- for all the litigation SCO is initiating. How do you keep your morale up?"

Stowell was quick to answer. "It can be hard sometimes," he said. "But we just have to keep our eye on the reward in the long term. The wheels of the court system move so slowly. Knowing what we know (and they can't talk about detail due to NDA, court orders, etc.), we're comfortable in knowing that SCO is in the right, and that its IP rights will eventually be backed by the court system."

SCO, as a company, is optimistic

So, I asked the next question: Do all 250-odd employees at SCO feel the same way you do? Does everybody have this 'just-you-wait-and-see attitude' that the company's day will come, and that one fine day, SCO will have the last laugh?

"I'd say so," Stowell said.

A company's overall attitude generally starts with the boss. "So I take it that it starts with (CEO) Darl McBride at the top, and filters down through the company? I asked. "You all have this confidence?"

"Yes," Stowell said.

OK. On to another topic: business. Many people believe that SCO Group is not really in the Unix software business -- ostensibly, it makes and services UnixWare. Many people believe that it is in the intellectual property protection business. This means that it has to be the bad guy and start lawsuits on a regular basis -- often against its own clients, such as AutoZone, DaimlerChrysler, and IBM.

"Doesn't this kind of activity get you down after a while?" I asked.

"It's not our favorite thing to talk about," Stowell said. "But look at it this way: We're just like any other company that owns property or products that leases or rents its products to other companies. They're making a profit using our intellectual property. We have a right -- and it's our business -- to collect licensing fees based on this intellectual property. Lots of companies sue other companies over licensing issues. It's our business to make a profit on what we own and license to others.

"It's also our business to protect our intellectual property, in that we believe a lot of what we own is being used wrongly in Linux. There just happens to be a very vocal community (open source) out there who watch every move we make."

SCO has yet to show proof of its position

True. But the IBM lawsuit is now in its 17th month, and SCO Group has proved nothing in its contention that IBM is using stolen Unix System V code in its AIX operating system. IBM is bound and determined to ride this out, all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary. If SCO Group is ultimately seeking a buyout or settlement, it's not going to get it; IBM has said so in no uncertain terms.

The DaimlerChrysler suit, which was about code that hadn't been used in more than seven years by the automaker, was all but thrown out on July 21 by a Michigan judge. The AutoZone case is currently on hold. In the meantime, McBride told a SCO conference recently that the company isn't going to initiate any more new lawsuits until at least one of these current suits finally gets before a jury.

"How is SCO going about comparing its code to Linux that belongs to companies like IBM and others?" I asked. "Does SCO have a group of engineers set aside to compare lines of code side-by side, until pirated code shows up on the screen?"

"No, we don't have people working full time doing that," Stowell said. "The way it happens is like this: When the court asks us for something specific, we assign some engineers to the project. We usually give them a couple of weeks to fulfill the request. They have plenty of other work to do."

Blepp was just a blip on the radar screen

"What ever happened to that SCO sales guy in Germany, Gregory Blepp, who said he was carrying 'millions of lines' of the disputed Linux code in his own briefcase last April?" I asked. "That was an interesting story. He kind of fell off the map; I haven't heard about him lately."

Stowell laughed. "Oh, he no longer works for us," he said. "But I think he might be doing some consulting. Anyway, do you know how many pages 'millions of lines of code' would be? A lot bigger than his briefcase, that's for sure. That should have been somebody's first clue."

Contrary to what some people say and have written, SCO Group doesn't see using Linux as illegal. SCO says it wants to make sure the code it believes it owns is not used within a Linux system. To that end, SCO Group is keeping its eyes on the long-term prize.

"We'll see when it (the IBM case) comes to trial (the new trial date is Nov. 1, 2005)," Stowell said. "We're looking to the future here. We can wait. Knowing what we know, we're confident we will win."

Right about then, we finished lunch. Stowell offered to treat me, but I thanked him and declined.


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