Users: Legal threat won't deter Linux adoption for now

The SCO Group Inc.'s claim that the Linux kernel contains large blocks of illegal code isn't stalling corporate adoption of the open-source operating system. But the case is clearly getting the attention of many IT managers, and some said the uncertainty it's creating could have an impact on future Linux implementation plans.

Lindon, Utah-based SCO, which in March filed a US$1 billion lawsuit against IBM Corp. alleging misappropriation of trade secrets and unfair competition, now claims that sections of the Linux kernel -- in chunks of code as large as 15 lines -- were copied from its Unix System V operating system. In May, the company sent letters to all Fortune 1,000 and Global 500 companies with a vague warning that using Linux could put them at legal risk. But so far SCO's actions don't appear to be affecting corporate rollouts.

"I have not heard of the lawsuit substantially altering people's plans for Linux deployment," said Jim Battan, president of the Portland, Ore., chapter of the Chicago-based Society for Information Management. "It's something most companies are observing closely but aren't too worried that there will be substantial end-user complications."

Duke Energy Corp. in Charlotte, N.C., for instance, is proceeding apace with its Linux adoption, said Bruce Anderson, the company's general manager of IT strategies and technical architecture. Like a lot of large companies, Duke Energy has Linux on limited-function appliance devices.

Dan Agronow, vice president of technology at Weather.com and Weather Channel Enterprises Inc. in Atlanta, said SCO's actions raise more questions than answers. "It's having no effect at all" on Linux use at his company, said Agronow. "There's too much uncertainty."

The uncertainty and skepticism over SCO's claim stem from a lack of proof. SCO said that beginning next week, it will show its source code to analysts who agree to sign a nondisclosure agreement. But it may have trouble getting takers.

Giga Information Group Inc. analyst Stacey Quandt said she is wary that signing a nondisclosure agreement could prevent her from discussing the legitimacy of SCO's claims. She called the offer a PR stunt. "(SCO) should tell everybody what they have," said Quandt, who has advised clients of Cambridge, Mass.-based Giga to continue with their Linux adoptions.

George Weiss, an analyst at Gartner Inc. who recently recommended minimizing Linux adoption in complex, mission-critical systems until the merits of SCO's claims or any judgments are clear, has also been talking to SCO. He said he's leaning against accepting SCO's offer, noting that SCO is making its case based on "vague inferences" and is asking analysts to do the same. "It's stepping right into their shoes," he said.

Regardless of the uncertainties, legal experts said users have to pay attention. "The fact that you ignored it could potentially cause your damages to increase substantially," said Brian E. Ferguson, an attorney in McDermott, Will & Emery's Washington office. "The ostrich's head-in-the-sand approach is definitely not an option."

Until the case is resolved, Peter Mojica, a vice president at AXS-One Inc., a Rutherford, N.J., supply chain software vendor, said he expects companies will at least consider the legal challenge before proceeding with Linux adoptions.

"It will definitely chill it," said Mojica, although he noted that Linux will still be widely adopted in the long run. "It is kind of hard to stop the open-source train," he said.

Barry Brunetto, director of information systems at Port-land, Ore.-based sporting goods and power equipment manufacturer Blount International Inc., said SCO's legal claims may be a factor in any strategic Linux decision his company makes. "It does play into our mind," he said.

(Reporter Todd R. Weiss contributed to this story.)

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