SCO OpenServer

OpenServer may be free, but it's not “open”.
The Desktop

In any case, with the OpenServer desktop up and running, scosh's text interface is rendered moot. Most of its functionality is right on the desktop, which combines features of the Macintosh and Windows GUI. You can browse the file system Mac style, with windows, files and folders, but copying documents requires a click of the right mouse button as in Windows 95. There are also the ubiquitous “File” and “Edit” menus at the top of every window. Lest you forget you're using Unix, the window manager features a four-panel desktop panner, and you can bring up a shell from the Unix icon. Pop-up menus that follow the mouse mimic most of the menu system functions and round out the desktop's basic features. Anyone familiar with FVWM will feel right at home with the look and feel of SCO's window manager, and it maintains a solid balance between functionality and desktop clutter.

You'll probably first want to explore the system administration folder, which offers some graphic front ends to the process of fine tuning SCO. I say some because often the interface reverts from a full, icon-based system to a window with a text prompt. Unfortunately, the treatment is pretty uneven; the file-system manager presents friendly disk pictograms that you can mount and configure while the floppy-file-system manager leaves you grappling with its multiple-choice text menus.

While noodling around in the administration folder, I found the hardware/kernel manager pleasantly easy to use—it was pretty simple to build DOS file-system recognition into the kernel when I wanted to get at a floppy. However, after the joys of RedHat's configX, SCO's video configuration manager was somewhat disappointing. It doesn't offer much flexibility when it comes to fine tuning your setup; you can select your monitor, video card and whatever resolutions are supported. If you get the wrong one and your screen is suddenly tweaked, it's not easy to back out to a better choice. My video card wasn't included in the defaults, so I was sent scrambling for SCO's advanced hardware supplement, which is included on the CD-ROM.

Within the networks folder, similar surprises awaited me. I was hoping to set up PPP, but there were options only for configuring a LAN or a WAN. As a last act of desperation, I consulted the OpenServer help system. To SCO's credit, the help application is well constructed and easy to use. Though it's not innovative—it uses a web browser style interface—it's easy to navigate, and help menus in every window provide the opportunity for context-sensitive clues. The documentation is no worse than your average HOWTO, though they lack the personal touch of Linux collaborations. I was pleased to find numerous examples in both the help system, and, after abandoning the GUI, in the configuration file comments. (It turns out that PPP can be configured partially as a WAN network and partially using the UUCP dial-up tools.)

Beyond noodling with the system configuration, there isn't much else to do with OpenServer. There are tools to define aspects of the display, and the distribution includes the usual generic calendar application, text editor and even Mosaic.

Unfortunately, while SCO provides an OS, it doesn't offer much in the way of a distribution. And, before you're able to port your favorite applications, you may have dig up a compiler. After several tries, I finally got the installer to recognize my free license for the OpenServer Development System. I had to install the non-developer version, then use the SCO software installer to import the developer version from the CD-ROM. This process provides a prompt for the developer license, and this time, the free license worked. It never did accept the license from the main install screen. This problem should be partially remedied by UnixWare, which SCO has just started offering for “free” (again, $19.00US). UnixWare includes Netscape Navigator Gold, the UnixWare Software Development Kit and Netscape's FastTrack Server, so it will save you downloading time and give you more to play with.

Most of what you gain by installing SCO is an appreciation for Linux and its model for system development. Though many of my complaints about OpenServer could easily be turned against various Linux distributions, OpenServer clearly demonstrates that Linux is at least comparable to and may even surpass SCO's commercial Unix in its general functionality.

I can't say that I found a truly compelling reason to use SCO, nor did I uncover any features that Linux seems to lack. Moreover, if I was forced to use OpenServer, I'd have to spend a considerable amount of time outfitting it with the standard shells and tools that I've come to expect with any Unix. Given the OS's restrictive licensing agreement, it's difficult to believe that SCO will be able to attract any serious new believers even at their clearance price. But, if you can pick OpenServer up for free, it's the best proof that Linux has really become a commercial-grade product.

Ken Collins is an Internet software developer at Neoglyphics in Chicago. To keep his right brain from crystallizing he tries to stay current on Soviet history, dabbles in postmodern theory and writes for the New Art Examiner. He can be reached at