SCO's Slow Boat to Linux

by David Penn

In an interview with Computerworld's Joseph Maglitta in April of 1999, president and CEO of the Santa Cruz Operation Doug Michels lamented the fact that, while his company had been considered a UNIX trailblazer by many, the arrival of the Linux Phenomenon has, at times, seemed to relegate SCO to the status of old, gray mare.

"Linux didn't break any new ground," Mr. Michels said in response to a question about Linux as "Unix Jr.". "They're not in control of their road map", he said in response to a question about Linux's weaknesses.

So, does the increasing pace of SCO's Linux-friendly moves--most recently, releasing a version of Tarantella, the company's web-enabling software, for Linux--change Mr. Michels' attitude about the operating system he referred to as "a religion"?

"Our thinking (about Linux) has developed and changed over the last 12 months," said Mike Orr, senior vice president of worldwide marketing. "A number of factors encouraged that development, including the increased customer interest in Linux as an alternative to Windows NT, the level of ISV commitment to Linux ports, our increased focus on serverware--products like Tarantella that run on a wide range of operating systems, and increased usage and familiarity with Linux among SCO personnel."

Perhaps so, but the fascinating fact of the matter is that while Linux diehards may take exception to the tone of Mr. Michels' remarks (Mr. Michels sent a letter of clarification to the Linux International Board of Directors that is worth reading in this context), SCO's cautious approach to Linux is based on some very fundamental reasoning about both the strengths and limitations of the Linux operating system, as well as how the Santa Cruz Operation plans to best exploit its own strategy of "server-based network computing".

"We see applications moving over the next several years to a thin-client, server-based network computing model," Mr. Orr added, "using the Internet as the primary communication channel between these diverse clients and servers. Tarantella will play a key role in enabling legacy and present applications to take advantage of this model without a rewrite. We see Linux playing a significant role in three ways: as a client, as an application server and as a Tarantella platform."

At the recent LinuxWorld Expo 2000, the Santa Cruz Operation announced that its Tarantella web-enabling software would soon be available for the Linux OS. Tarantella gives enterprises, work groups and organizations the ability to use Linux servers as a route to access web-based Windows, Linux and UNIX applications. Both Tarantella Enterprise II and Tarantella Express are expected to be available soon on Caldera OpenLinux, SuSE Linux and TurboLinux.

The connection between SCO and TurboLinux is one of the more interesting relationships the company is involved with, largely because of how it both highlights and responds to one of the criticisms of the Linux operating system on servers. Last fall, TurboLinux released TurboCluster, software geared toward combining multiple servers for high-powered e-mail and web serving. The development was seen largely as a bid to make Linux more attractive as a server for Internet service providers. TurboLinux quickly lined up a number of partners for support, including Linuxcare for technical support and the Santa Cruz Operation for consulting services for TurboCluster customers.

Part of SCO's hesitancy to join in the Linux giddiness stems from the mild, ongoing rivalry between old-guard UNIX and the new, nimble Linux. In the case of SCO's UnixWare and OpenServer, for example, while there are areas in which the various Linux alternatives perform comparably (and, with regard to cost, there is little comparison between Linux and UNIX alternatives), as the task requirements begin to scale upwards, UNIX proper begins to outpace most distributions of Linux fairly consistently. The emergence of Linux as a boutique server, performing limited, yet highly specialized tasks, is in many ways a concession to the open-source operating system's strengths and its most likely place of deployment in the enterprise.

As a long-time UNIX mainstay, the SCO's Linux strategy consists largely of professional consulting services for Linux users, as well as significant equity investments in, TurboLinux and Caldera. But rather than using its Linux strategy as the centerpiece of the company's efforts, the Santa Cruz Operation treated its familiarity, investment and expertise in Linux as a way to hype its own "server-based network computing strategy"--a strategy which extends beyond their Tarantella for Itanium/64-bit Linux efforts to include SCO's OpenServer for smaller and medium-sized enterprises, and UnixWare, which is geared toward service as an application, intranet, mail and messaging server.

SCO also recently closed a deal with SuSE Linux AG through which the Santa Cruz Operation will provide its SCO Professional Services to SuSE customers. SCO Professional Services will provide planning, installation, configuration and deployment support and consultation for customers using SuSE's Linux operating system.

With SCO moving more aggressively in a Linux direction, some have begun to suggest almost cavalierly that SCO is in the process of "transformation into a Linux company". This, says Mr. Orr, is an oversimplification of SCO's recent efforts, adding that "we are including Linux into many parts of our business strategy, but we see ourselves as a software company that provides products and services for server-based computing, based on multiple operating systems."

"It is true to say that SCO is transforming itself, but it is also true that we still have a major revenue stream and investment in UNIX systems--including OpenServer, UnixWare and Monterey."


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