Slime for sale

I've seen a number of theories about just what the heck The SCO Group is trying to accomplish in suing IBM for a billion dollars, but collecting a billion dollars is not one of the believable theories.

The plot so far has SCO deciding to sue IBM for unfair competition and breach of contract. SCO said: "IBM made concentrated efforts to improperly destroy the economic value of Unix, particularly Unix on Intel, to benefit IBM's new Linux services business."

(As an aside, having tried to use SCO's Unix, I'm not sure how IBM could do a more effective job of destroying the economic value of SCO Unix than SCO has been doing on its own.)

SCO says that, while doing research to support the suit, it found a number of places where SCO secret software code was used in Linux. The company, at least in part, blames IBM for the code being there. SCO says it will cancel IBM's Unix license, which IBM needs in order to ship its version of Unix called AIX, in the middle of June because of the violations. Then, in spite of claiming that it is not out to destroy Linux, SCO sent mail to 1,500 corporate users of Linux strongly hinting that SCO might come after them next.

Considering it had a market cap of only US$12 million or so when it filed the suit, SCO is, at best, showing considerable chutzpah in asking for a billion dollars. I expect that the amount was chosen merely to attract attention. There is no rational way, without IBM's alleged activities, to imagine that SCO would be 80 times its current size - considering the products that SCO is trying to sell and its track record of nonsuccess.

The most believable theory on SCO's intentions is that the company is trying to get IBM to buy it. Many folks on Wall Street seem to share this theory because the stock value has quintupled since the suit was filed. Following this theory, the warning letters were merely a way to increase pressure on IBM. Sort of like a vandal spray painting obscene graffiti on the homes of a hated corporation's board members.

But this graffiti is more like spraying acid; it is a callous effort to threaten destruction of Linux as a bargaining ploy. One has little reason these days to respect corporate executives, so this type of behavior should come as no surprise, but that does not keep one from feeling disgusted.

I expect that SCO will succeed in at least part of its objective. Someone will pay off the slime; it's cheaper than fighting the case. And that makes me sad and mad.

Disclaimer: Folk at the Harvard biology department grow slime, but the university researchers do not then pay off the slime they grow, nor has the university expressed an opinion on this case.

Bradner is a consultant with Harvard University's University Information Systems. He can be reached at

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