SCO users divided over GPL

While The SCO Group's upper management has taken a dim view of Linux's software license, the GPL (GNU General Public License), SCO developers at the company's annual user conference this week expressed dissatisfaction with SCO's public disparagement of the software license.

SCO CEO Darl McBride's opened SCO Forum on Monday with comments that the GPL was "about destroying value," but apparently the company sees some value in GPL-licensed software. McBride's keynote was followed, just hours later, by a scheduled presentation entitled "How to Use the GNU Toolkits," given by SCO engineer Kean Johnston.

SCO ships its own development kit with its UnixWare and OpenServer operating systems, called the UODK (UnixWare/OpenServer Development Kit), but it also includes with them the approximately 150 pieces of open source software that make up the GCC (GNU C Compiler) development tool. The GCC is released under the GPL software license.

"The UODK is a very capable compiler for our platforms," he said during his presentation. "However, there are certain advantages to using the GNU tools."

Developers at the presentation were more frank, saying that SCO was, in fact, dependent upon the GNU tools, which are used and supported by a large community of developers and work with languages, like Fortran and Objective C, that are not supported by the UODK. "The OpenServer compiler is crap. Without (the GCC) they would be up the creek," said Hans Anderson, the director of software development with Price Data Systems in Louisville, Kentucky.

Boyd Gerber, a consultant based in Midvale, Utah said that his development work depended on the GNU tools. "With some of the OpenServer tools I use, I just can't do it without the GCC," he said.

SCO's image as a threat to Linux and the GPL has evaporated any goodwill toward UnixWare or OpenServer developers, and made some open source project leaders wary about accepting their code, developers said. "Because of what they're doing with their suit, it's making it hard for me to contribute," said Gerber.

The backlash against SCO has even resulted in rumblings from some open source developers that SCO's operating systems should no longer be supported in the GCC. A readme file in the recently released GCC 3.3.1 contained the following message from the GCC 's maintainers, the Free Software Foundation: "We have been urged to drop support for SCO Unix from this release of GCC, as a protest against this irresponsible aggression against free software and GNU/Linux. However, the direct effect of this action would fall on users of GCC rather than on SCO. For the moment, we have decided not to take that action."

Both Gerber and Anderson were unhappy with the increasing amount of anti-GPL rhetoric coming from McBride, who on Monday argued that open source software and the GPL are bad for the entire technology industry.

Proprietary and open source technologies can coexist, said Anderson, who argued that SCO copyright holders should have the right to release their code under the GPL, should they so choose. "It made me livid, sitting there, to hear him say that people can't give away what they want," he said, referring to McBride's keynote.

At one point, SCO's business model was based on selling the Linux operating system, which is released under the GPL. In 2000, after completing an initial public offering as a Linux vendor, the company, which had been called Caldera Systems Inc., bought the software and professional services divisions of the proprietary Unix company, The Santa Cruz Operation Inc. (also known as SCO). It acquired the UnixWare and OpenServer products, as well as the rights to the original AT&T Unix source code in the transaction. Caldera has since changed its name to The SCO Group Inc, and ceased distribution of Linux, except to customers with existing support contracts.

The Lindon, Utah company's anti-GPL position may not sit well with SCO's developers, but resellers at the show literally applauded McBride's stance during his keynote. After the talk many expressed concerns that free software would threaten their own products or erode their profit margins.

"We as a reseller feel that we want to protect our market," said Jay Davidow, a reseller with Winnipeg, Manitoba's Profit Master Canada. "Giving away our software would not be a good business case."

The proprietary world would have created adequate alternatives to the GCC, had the free software not driven development tool companies out of that market, he noted. "You had companies that made developer tools, but where are they today? They don't exist."

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