IBM is suddenly seeing conspiracy everywhere it looks, and if the company is right, Microsoft and the SCO Group--the UNIX owner that's now attempting to exercise its intellectual property rights over companies that make Linux, which SCO says contains stolen UNIX source code--are at the heart of the problem. SCO, you might recall, sued IBM earlier this year for more $1 billion, then revoked IBM's UNIX license. And Microsoft, infamously, was among the first companies to license UNIX from SCO, a move that many people saw as a public relations stunt designed to help SCO hurt Linux, Microsoft's arch-competitor. IBM has backed Linux as the cross-platform solution for all its computer product lines, and the company has spent the past few years steadily improving Linux.
The situation is confusing enough without a conspiracy theory. But this week, things became even more interesting when Al Zollar, general manager of IBM's iSeries Division, told attendees at the company's Asia Pacific Strategic Planning Conference in Australia that IBM and the open-source community face an awesome threat from a "a set of forces ... mostly located in Redmond." Although Zollar didn't name SCO explicitly (one gets the feeling IBM executives have been asked not to attack SCO during the lawsuit), Zollar clearly lumped SCO into this set of forces, which obviously also includes Redmond-based Microsoft.
Discussing SCO's lawsuit against IBM, however, Zollar did describe it as "silly," and he reiterated IBM's stance that its UNIX license is irrevocable and that IBM will win this case in court. Zollar isn't the first person to find Microsoft's all-too-eager signing of SCO's UNIX license a bit suspicious. Rumored to be valued at $10 million, the license fee won't make much of a dent in Microsoft's earnings, but it could certainly fund a few vicious legal battles as SCO moves from Linux vendor to Linux vendor, looking for deep pockets to mine. From a cost standpoint, Microsoft's investment is already paying off because SCO's lawsuit is having the effect on Linux that Microsoft has never been able to achieve on its own--uncertainty. Despite a general belief in the open-source community that SCO has precious little legal ground to mount its attack, the fear always exists that SCO could win in court. And if it does, what will happen to Linux? Is the open-source system ever going to be free of these kinds of challenges?
These questions are for the ages. But Microsoft is happy that we're asking them at all; maybe Zollar's claims aren't as fanciful as they first appear. Conspiracy, anyone?