On Tuesday, Darl McBride, CEO and president of Unix vendor The SCO Group Inc., released an open letter offering to talk about the issues separating his company and the open-source and Linux communities. In this interview, McBride explained why he wrote the letter and what he expects to accomplish.
For months now, SCO has claimed that IBM illegally contributed some of SCO's protected Unix System V code to the Linux project, and has warned companies using Linux since the release of Version 2.4 of the Linux kernel that they have to pay SCO a licensing fee. Critics argue that SCO is just trying to make a last-ditch effort to stay alive through the courts and a hoped-for payoff from IBM.
Here's what McBride had to say:
Q: When you wrote the letter, did you envision it as a a peace offering to the open-source community or is that too strong an image?
Yes, it is an olive branch. We want to understand how we can move forward together here. Both sides are entrenched in their positions. This could be a 15-year knockdown, drag-out type of fight. At another level, if there's a way of resolving the differences so we move along peacefully in a shorter term that gets resolved, we're all for that.
Q: What is your best possible scenario to come out of the letter?
It would be to have our intellectual property (IP) that we feel has been misappropriated into Linux getting valued, and we're then able to move forward. We're recognizing the clout that Linux is developing, the fact that it's a worldwide phenomenon and the fact that this can really be a new standard for computing in the business environment. To the extent that we're able to get recognition for what we feel is a significant amount of contribution ... we move forward together, and Linux is able to live and we're able to get recognition for our IP.
Q: Why did you send the letter?
The letter was spurred on in large part by the distributed denial-of-service attacks we've been receiving (at SCO's Web site) over the last few weeks. We have gotten a handle on the attacks, we've taken defensive measures. It really started me thinking about what is going on here at the "big picture" level. We have a court date set with IBM for April 11, 2005. Is this going to be our collective lives for the next couple of years, attack and counterattack, back and forth? Sometimes when you get in the battlefield you have to step back once in a while and say, "Where are we and what's going on?" That's what spurred it.
What we're trying to say is, No.1, intellectual property is very important in establishing this (Linux) platform and to just take this "don't ask, don't tell" methodology (toward IP), we don't think that works. If we're going into a new business environment around Linux, well, let's ask the question right upfront: Does the free business model work? Everything we've looked at, whether it's free Internet, free telecom, free music, all of these things tend to, for one reason or another, not work over an extended period of time. Clearly, the free model just about killed our company, and I would argue that it's going to kill a lot of other software companies if the GPL (General Public License) is able to gain a foothold and run rampant throughout the industry.
Q: Is this letter setting a more conciliatory tone than you've had in the recent past toward the open-source community?
I believe it kind of was (more conciliatory). You saw us at SCO Forum (SCO's customer and vendor event in August in Las Vegas) on the heels of having a few lawsuits filed against us (by IBM and Red Hat Inc.). When people attack you, you tend to put up your defenses and fight back. Over the last several weeks, the battle has definitely escalated. It's a high-profile battle and there's a lot of missiles being launched from both sides. It (releasing the letter) was sort of escalating out of the fray for a bit, looking at the bigger issues and in fact extending that olive branch -- if that's where everybody wants to go.
Q: What would you like to see happen now in response?
The simple thing we would like to see going forward is that there's a business model around Linux that allows companies like ours to be able to get compensation when their IP is showing up inside Linux. Secondly, that there would be a process with Linux to ensure that the (code) that is going in there is valued and IP-protected.
Q: In your letter, you named Silicon Graphics Inc. as a company that has allegedly illegally made contributions of SCO code to Linux. Why did you choose to name SGI now? What are you doing about it?
We've said from the beginning that our desire is not to have more litigation (with companies other than IBM). As we've gotten into it, clearly there are a lot of other paths you could go into litigation. One of them clearly was this problem we saw ... with a lot of code showing up in Linux coming from SGI. We've been in communication with them. We have been trying to resolve the issues there. Why did this come up now? Well, at SCO Forum, there were some folks that came out and basically sniffed out some of the (disputed System V) code we were showing and (concluded) that it emanated from SGI. There's been a lot of inquiries since then. We felt it was important to make a public statement and say, yes, there is a problem there and that we're at least trying to work out some of those issues. The point of the letter was not a precursor to saying, "Let's go sue a bunch more companies." It really was a letter to try and understand how could we try and put things together.
Q: How do you feel about apparently being reviled in the open-source community due to SCO's legal fight? Does it bother you?
It does and it doesn't. We're at the center of a hurricane. Clearly, in this case we have one set of forces here that are pro-SCO, and I've characterized them as the silent majority. Then there's the other side that is anything but silent, and they're some of the most boisterous enemies or antagonists that one could ever hope for. You think pro sports stars have got it bad as they're driving home after the game when they've gone 1 for 10 and missed five three-pointers. They think their lives are bad from the sound bites on sports radio. They need to come over here and read Slashdot. That part of it is not the most exciting part of your life.
It's a function of what's going on right now. We believe we've got the moral high ground in this case, so that's what propels you forward. When our letter (went out), I had responses from both ends of the spectrum.