Canadian Linux Consultants Offer Safety from Software Audits

by Don Marti

In response to threatened audits by a Canadian proprietary software consortium called the Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft (CAAST), 14 Canadian Linux consultants and three US-based consultants have started a web site called to offer free consulting help to businesses and organizations upgrading to Linux.

Although CAAST offered a temporary truce during the month of March, the proprietary software group still poses a costly threat to Canadian businesses, said Evan Leibovitch of the consulting firm Starnix Inc. "They're not afraid to go to a court and ask to go in without notice so they can catch a place by surprise", he said. Once CAAST gets a court order, the company has to submit to an audit and prove its innocence, he added.

Some businesses might not be aware they're violating a software license until an audit happens, Leibovitch said. "We've run across clients in the situation where they've had per-seat licenses and thought them to be concurrent licenses", he said. A record-keeping mistake can also be costly. One organization "knew that they had desktops that were bought with legal Windows licenses, yet they didn't have the paperwork so they had to pay again", he explained. But, he said, most of the companies using software in violation of the license are aware of it.

Leibovitch suggests that going Linux now could, in practice, wash away past license violations. "When the audit comes in and the company has made the switch to open source, it becomes very, very difficult to prove the time and the breadth of the illegal use, when at the time the audit happens the company is totally legal. All they have is some snitch line to go on."

Although most of the proprietary-OS systems the consultants replace have been servers, Leibovitch said, "A number of developments this year are making Linux a more credible desktop that it has been before." "We're able to meet most desktop needs with KDE and OpenOffice", he added.

David F. Skoll, founder of Roaring Penguin Software, Inc. and author of userspace PPP over Ethernet support for Linux, said the server side is his company's "bread and butter" but that he has installed some desktop Linux systems for startups without a proprietary office legacy. Open-source software has two advantages for his clients, Skoll says: "It's much more reliable, and it's way cheaper. Almost none of my clients care about the freedom aspect, although I care about it very strongly."

Roaring Penguin also maintains a mail filter called MIMEDefang, which removes potentially harmful e-mail attachments. Skoll often installs MIMEDefang on an external mail server that filters mail and passes it to an internal proprietary mail server.

As the site points out, "The Business Software Alliance, the global consortium of proprietary software companies which fights piracy, uses Apache, MySQL and FreeBSD to power its web site, rather than relying on software created by any of its member companies."

Don Marti is Technical Editor of Linux Journal.

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