Linux as Usual? The View from the Trenches

by Glenn Stone

I've been watching, along with everybody else, the whole SCO v. IBM saga unfold for the past six months now. I see people like Bruce Perens, Eric Raymond and our own Phil Hughes launch broadsides in the general direction of Utah, and I see Darl McBride continue to snipe back, raising a lot of sound and fury....

Any high schooler who has stumbled across Hamlet knows the end of that line. But, despite our fondest wishes in the Linux community, we all know that no court case in the American legal system is ever a certain thing. So I thought to answer the question what does SCO v. IBM really mean for you and me, folks who would read Linux Journal?

I'll tell you what I see.

The first thing I see, here in my own humble confines, is a brand-new copy of SuSE Linux Enterprise Server, which I reviewed last week. The date on the Web page for SLES 8 for the AMD-64 is 07/30/2003. The SCO Group started all this back in March and terminated IBM's license to System V in June.

The second thing I see is a note on my calendar about a conference call today concerning the startup of a new Linux consultancy. The gentleman spearheading this effort had been a loyal SCO customer since 1984 and had picked up Caldera Linux along the way. When the news of the lawsuit hit the Net, he promptly dumped SCO and went searching for a new Linux distribution with which to support his customers, coincidentally settling on SuSE.

I accompanied the gentleman in question on a trip to a client site last week. We installed a server running SuSE so they could share and back up their files. We also set up a hardware firewall and a hardware print server so they could print from any of their computers, including the salesman's laptop from on-site. The client seemed totally unconcerned that the new server ran Linux; he was happy just to see it working. The business, by the way, is a small wood shop; its sole reason for having computers is to facilitate sales and bookkeeping.

I now see here in my e-mail inbox a posting on SSC's "linux-list"; a gentleman I know is looking for small-form-factor computers. I know what he's doing. He's designing a portable classroom from which he can teach classes on open-source software.

I next see a note on a very popular blog-community site asking for help moving from Windows to Linux. The poster uses FreeBSD at work and also reads my blog; he can't have been insulated from all the furor the last six months have seen. However, having used Linux only as a server, he's unfamiliar with what desktops and applications are available. He posts a poll asking which Linux distribution he should use and follows it up with a request for comparable applications.

Then, I hit my favorite news site and search for Linux. I am rewarded with a fresh bit of news. IBM just announced that the new Library of Congress servers will run--again, coincidentally--SLES 8. The tag end of the article mentions that Red Hat's own enterprise-class release is due next month. A bit more poking around reveals an announcement from Hewlett-Packard that it is opening a new Linux lab in China and will work in collaboration with Oracle, Intel and BEA Systems on deploying the LinTel/Oracle platform in the Far East.

From last week, we have Motorola launching a new Linux-based mobile phone in Japan. Sony has a new set-top box. Phillips has a Linux-based remote control. These are consumer electronics, things you don't take to market unless you intend to sell a few million of them. These also are things that cost a lot less than the $700 per CPU license fee that SCO wants to collect from Linux users. One wag suggested that companies receiving invoices from SCO refer them to their German offices, but somehow I don't think that will work for Motorola, which is, after all, an American company. But SCO's claims don't seem to have prevented Motorola from not only releasing the new phone but selling their Symbian stock and partnering with TimeSys to produce a Linux-based RTOS for their VMEbus-based single board computers.

I'm no business analyst, but perhaps that's the point. If there's one thing I learned from following the Street through the dot-com boom and bust, it's that money talks. Press releases are a dime a dozen, but I see a lot of money being invested in R&D, plane tickets to China, new computers, consultant time and, in my friend's case, a shiny new Red Hat box set. When you have your livelihood or your company's razor-thin profit margin on the line, you don't spend bucks on something you don't think is going to be around for a while. Here we have Motorola, Sony, Phillips, HP, IBM and the US Library of Congress all making largish investments in Linux, and the ordinary man on the street following suit. I've seen a few rumblings from the likes of Dell as to how it isn't going to protect its clients from any lawsuit SCO might lodge against them, but I haven't seen any of the big players say they're discontinuing Linux sales or support.

Much ink and a lot more keystrokes have been spent on what SCO's case means for Linux, the community, the GPL itself and IBM. But at the end of the day, from down here in the trenches, everything seems to be ticking along as usual. History will record whether Hamlet was right, but for the moment, he seems to be.

Glenn Stone is a Red Hat Certified Engineer, sysadmin, technical writer, cover model and general Linux flunkie. He has been hand-building computers for fun and profit since 1999, and he is a happy denizen of the Pacific Northwest.


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