Drawing new customers challenge for SCO

After leaving the happy confines of its SCO Forum 2003 in Las Vegas, The SCO Group last week said it's going to take its latest product road map to new customers to try and sell itself and its upcoming revamped operating system software.

But that task will likely be much tougher for the Lindon, Utah-based company than building excitement among its faithful core users.

"I have no intentions of ever doing business with SCO," said Chad Wilson, a computer support analyst at an Ohio-based hospital that runs Windows-equipped servers and dabbles in Linux and IBM AIX. Wilson said SCO's recent actions in its US$3 billion lawsuit against IBM Corp. over its Unix intellectual property turned him off when SCO began threatening Linux users with legal action if they don't pay new $699-per-CPU licensing fees to SCO. "Basically, with their tactics, they hurt their chance of getting a future customer," Wilson said.

IBM filed a countersuit against SCO earlier this month, while Linux vendor Red Hat Inc. also filed a lawsuit, charging SCO with "unfair and deceptive" attacks against Linux in the marketplace.

Rafael Diaz, a systems administrator at a national children's clothing store chain, said he also opposes SCO's efforts to get businesses using Linux to pay it licensing fees. "To me, it's almost like blackmail aimed at the smaller companies that might not have the funds for a lawsuit," Diaz said. "I would never consider any products from SCO, just based on their tactics."

Meanwhile, he said, his company is continuing its plans to look at moving some of its Windows-based servers to Linux. "This whole SCO thing doesn't halt our development at all," he said. "In fact, we're looking at ways of deploying Linux desktops in some areas."

Ronald Edge, manager of information systems for Indiana University's Intercollegiate Athletics Department in Bloomington, said the SCO lawsuit and legal battles have left him unwilling to review the company's latest wares. Besides, he said, SCO's dearth of Unix development and products over the past couple of years makes it difficult to trust the company's new road map.

"Because of this lawsuit, I would never have anything to do with them as vendors," he said. "I feel a harsh, bitter Norwegian cold equivalent to hell toward SCO."

His department is a Windows shop but has also been looking at alternatives like Linux, especially after the latest Windows Blaster worm and virus issues over the past several weeks, he said. "The latest [Linux] releases are a cat's whisker away from being able to put them on my grandmother's desktop," he said. They are capable of being able to run his department's core applications while having greater security than the Windows servers, he said. "That's something I'm seriously looking at," Edge said.

John Joyce, a laboratory information manager for a state government he declined to name, said he will "steer clear of the SCO products" because of the legal fight and because he's uncertain of the company's assurances that it wants to again push Unix development.

The laboratory uses mostly Windows systems but has some Linux, Sun Microsystems Inc. and Apple Computer Inc. Macintosh boxes, he said. "I don't see that we would see any overriding value in terms of going with their products," Joyce said.

Others, though, are willing to give SCO a chance.

Mark Stephens, president of The Stephens Group Inc., an IT consulting and integration business in Charlotte, N.C., said that he has some clients who run older versions of SCO Unix and that he would be willing to recommend the company's new products if they're the right choice for the job.

"SCO has been through some tough times," Stephens said. "They need revitalization, there's no question. But if they do what they say they'll do, they should be a significant player. If they don't, they'll be gone."

Several SCO users at the conference said they're excited about SCO's plans to revamp its Unix product lineup.

A Unix administrator at a California-based supermarket chain who asked not to be named said she was glad to see that SCO is once again diving into Unix development. The company had recently been testing its needed applications on Microsoft Windows NT just in case they had to move from SCO OpenServer, she said, but she will recommend that testing be scaled back because of the promising news she said she heard at SCO Forum.

"We should hang in," she said. "What they've got coming is great, and I think it's still the platform we should continue to develop with SCO."

Another attendee, a vice president of IT at a Fortune 500 manufacturing company in the Midwest, said he came to the show "because we had question marks" about SCO. "We had identified SCO as a technology barometer that we were concerned about for the future."

"I'd say I still have some concerns about the legal issues going on" in the IBM case, he said. "I do feel better than I did. They're definitely building on the product so that makes me feel much more comfortable over the medium term. The long term is the question mark today."

Stacey Quandt, an independent operating systems analyst in Santa Clara, Calif., said the success of SCO's product line overhaul and enhancements will largely rest on adoption and development by independent software vendors. "There is a limit to the number of ISVs who will support these products," Quandt said. "It costs money to support a platform" and smaller ISVs may not have the money to invest in a SCO rebound attempt in the Unix market.

"In order for OpenServer to challenge, to become a more viable choice for users, there needs to be more ISV support," Quandt said. "It remains to be seen."

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