SCO unveils plans to revamp its Unix lineup

SCO says it's bringing back more than just its old name as it ramps up its fight to recapture some of its past Unix development and sales success.

At the company's 17th annual SCO Forum conference for customers, resellers and business partners in Las Vegas, SCO unveiled plans to rebuild its Unix product line, including the release next year of a more fully featured operating system, now code-named SCO OpenServer Legend, that the company will try to position as a replacement for Linux. SCO has been on the attack against Linux since March, when it filed a US$1 billion lawsuit against IBM Corp., alleging that the larger vendor illegally put some of SCO's System V Unix code into the Linux project to benefit its own business. The lawsuit was later amended with additional charges and now seeks more than US$3 billion from IBM. SCO has warned all enterprise Linux users since May that by using Linux, they're infringing on SCO's intellectual property and are potentially targets of legal action by the company.

"Very clearly, we've got this heritage of Unix" that SCO once again wants to capitalize on, said Darl McBride, SCO's CEO and president, in an interview at the SCO Forum in the MGM Grand Hotel's Conference Center. "It's like a house that hasn't been maintained in a few years. We're going to come back and spruce this place up."

The idea, McBride said, is to make the Unix alternative to Linux viable. "I think we have an incredible opportunity. The same way Linux is trying to catch up to us (with enterprise-mandated features), we can get ahead of them."

OpenServer Legend will be a key part of the revamped product line, which also includes a new mail server product, deeper Web services features and a renewed emphasis on Unix development at the company.

OpenServer Legend, scheduled for release sometime next year, will include greater database, Java and application support, as well as more extensive Universal Serial Bus and hardware support. SCO also plans enhancements for security, Windows compatibility, support for Web applications including the Apache Web server and Mozilla browser, and deep connections to SCOx Web Services.

Here at the conference, resellers, partners and existing SCO customers applauded the company's rejuvenated focus and product announcements, but this crowd of about 650 attendees is already in SCO's camp.

The question now, though, is how enterprise Linux users will react in the marketplace after being threatened by SCO over the past six months.

Al Gillen, an analyst at IDC, said SCO's plans to recharge its Unix lineup fits into its overall strategy of propping up its Unix products, which it continues to see as its most valuable holdings. But, Gillen said, SCO has alienated Linux users and others and may have a tough time gaining trust and new market share.

"That is a big challenge for them," Gillen said. "Like it or not, they really are trying to use scare tactics to get customers back. They don't see it as scare tactics," but many users feel they're being "coerced into a decision that they're not ready to make."

"Arguably, (users) are being forced to become a SCO customer," he said.

The new emphasis on Unix development makes sense for the company but isn't a guaranteed formula for success, he added. "I don't know if that's going to necessarily turn the market around for them," he said.

Another problem for SCO has been that Unix market share has been declining over the past several years. In 1999, Unix had 16.3 percent of new license shipments, according to IDC data. In 2001, that share dropped to 12.4 percent.

A major theme at the show has certainly been SCO's lawsuit against IBM and the unfair trade practices lawsuit filed against SCO earlier this month by Linux vendor Red Hat Inc. in Raleigh, N.C.

Several examples of the secret and disputed software code were shown to the crowd on large video screens while SCO executives and an attorney explained the company's case. The examples showed code from Unix and Linux that appeared to be identical or similar. SCO alleges that millions of lines of its System V Unix code were illegally put into Linux, and it used the displays to try to bolster its arguments.

McBride said his company will vigorously fight its legal battles and is confident of victory. But even while that fight is waged, SCO will continue developing its product line in an effort to convince users once again that the company is a good bet for the future, he said.

"The crowd noise is so loud on the (intellectual property rights and licensing) side of the business that it tends to sometimes drown out the core (Unix) business," McBride said.

During his keynote Monday, McBride urged SCO's faithful to weather the criticisms from critics about SCO's fight against IBM. "There's going to be a lot of attacks," he said. "Hang in there and go with us."

"Is SCO going out of business?" McBride asked. "No, SCO's going into business."

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