June 10, 2004

Commentary: Sun floats open source Solaris, but is it any of SCO's concern?

Author: Chris Preimesberger

Sun Microsystems' Open Source Diva, the talkative and intelligent Danese Cooper, admitted in her Divablog the other day that her company has been "leaking" its plans to open source its Unix System V-based Solaris operating system for years. But not many people have been paying much attention. Until now.

(Aside to Danese: You want attention? I'll give you attention: Open up Java, then you'll get people to sit up and take notice. But Solaris ... come on. What impact can that have on the open source -- or the entire IT community, for that matter? Do the math: How many Java developers are there (estimated 4 million), compared to Solaris-Unix developers? Resting my case.)

Biggest Solaris story in years

Anyway, new President/CEO Jonathan Schwartz last week woke up some people -- including folks at his own company -- in his press conference from Shanghai when he announced that "we will be open sourcing Solaris" at some point, without divulging any details about how or when this would happen. He didn't say whether Sun is considering releasing all of its Solaris code, whether it would release parts of it, or whether it would release components developed in-house by Sun itself. In any case, it was the biggest news story involving Solaris in years.

Now some people are taking notice -- most notably The SCO Group, whose corporate ears stood up (imagine a Doberman Pinscher).

SCO Group on Wednesday basically warned Sun not to consider it, telling Computerworld's Rodney Gedda that "while the details of Sun's plan to open-source Solaris are not clear at this time, Sun has broader rights than any other Unix licensee. However, they still have license restrictions that would prevent them from contributing our licensed works wholesale to the GPL," SCO marketing manager Marc Modersitzki said.

Aha. Does the little Utah company, which considers itself the gatekeeper of all Unix System V code, smell yet another lawsuit? It's already embroiled in huge intellectual property litigation against one of its biggest customers, IBM (a $5 billion claim). It has smaller lawsuits pending against clients DaimlerChrysler and AutoZone and has other litigation in process against Novell and Red Hat.

Modersitzki told NewsForge late Wednesday that "we have done business with Sun for a long time, and we're confident that they will be rigorous in sticking to the terms of its licensing agreement with SCO."

But what if Sun has other ideas about how to sell, and otherwise distribute, the latest generation of the primary code upon which it runs its heavy-duty systems? After all, there is a new regime at Sun, one run by a man (Schwartz) who came up through the software side of the company and is savvy about the value of open source.

SCO history points to another lawsuit

Can we expect SCO Group to plod over to the Salt Lake City federal courthouse and file new papers against Sun in an effort to keep it from letting loose some code that won't make a big impact anyway? If you look at SCO's history, the odds are heavily in favor of that happening, should Sun decide to do what it says it will do.

Litigation is SCO Group's full-time stock in trade. Unix products and services? Pure piffle.

Sun, over the course of years, has paid a huge amount -- $100 million -- to SCO Group for the rights to use Unix System V as it sees fit in its enterprise software. By rights, SCO should let Sun do whatever the heck it wants with its Solaris code, which has been Sun-itized many times over anyway. SCO already has made a huge profit, but it may want even more. You can bet its lawyers are lusting after this one.

In this case, everything else SCO tries to get through the courts is simply due to greed. There's no other word for it.


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