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[ossig] Microsoft takes over Unix licence



Microsoft takes over Unix licence
By Scott Ard, CNET News.com
Monday, May 19 2003 2:46 PM

Microsoft is acquiring the rights to Unix technology
from SCO Group, a move that could dramatically impact
the battle between Windows and Linux in the market for
computer operating systems.

According to a statement from Microsoft, the company
will license SCO's Unix patents and the source code.
That code is at the heart of a high-stakes,
billion-dollar lawsuit between SCO and IBM, which is
aggressively pushing Linux as an alternative to
Windows in corporate back shops.
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Microsoft's Windows has a monopoly in the market for
desktop operating systems, with a market share greater
than 90 percent. Linux, which has been developed by
thousands of contributors and can be freely obtained,
has caught on as a worthy competitor in the market for
corporate servers. In the past two years, Microsoft
has repeatedly labeled Linux a threat to the Redmond,
Wash.-based computing giant, partly because of its low
cost.

Unix was invented more than 30 years ago by AT&T's
Unix Systems Laboratories. In many ways Linux works
similarly to Unix, making it relatively easy to
translate Unix software to Linux.

AT&T sold the Unix intellectual property to Novell
Networks, which in turn sold it to the Santa Cruz
Operation. Caldera International, a seller of Linux,
then acquired from SCO the Unix rights and two SCO
products, OpenServer and UnixWare. Then last year,
Caldera changed its name to SCO Group to reflect the
fact that most of its revenue came from its SCO
business and not from the Linux products.

SCO claims the Unix source code has been copied into
Linux. In March, SCO sued IBM for US$1 billion,
alleging that Big Blue had used SCO's Unix code in
Linux. IBM, along with Hewlett-Packard, has been a
major backer of Linux. Last week, SCO escalated the
battle by sending hundreds of letters to large
corporations warning them that their use of Linux
could infringe on SCO's intellectual property.

SCO's letter stated, in part, "We believe that Linux
infringes on our Unix intellectual property and other
rights. We intend to aggressively protect and enforce
these rights. Legal liability that may arise from the
Linux development process may also rest with the end
user."

Some analysts said the move was an attempt by SCO to
be acquired by another company--possibly Microsoft,
IBM or another firm with a stake in the matter. "I
guess suing IBM wasn't enough to get them acquired, so
(the letters are) the next stage," Illuminata analyst
Gordon Haff said.

Late Sunday, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said
acquiring the license from SCO "is representative of
Microsoft's ongoing commitment to respecting
intellectual property and the IT community’s healthy
exchange of IP through licensing. This helps to ensure
IP compliance across Microsoft solutions and supports
our efforts around existing products like Services for
UNIX that further UNIX interoperability." Microsoft's
public disdain of Linux stretches back more than two
years.

In March 2001, Microsoft Senior Vice President Craig
Mundie said releasing source code into the public
domain is "unhealthy," causes security risks and "as
history has shown, while this type of model may have a
place, it isn't successful in building a mass market
and making powerful, easy-to-use software broadly
accessible to consumers."

A few months later, in an interview with CNET
News.com, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates sought to warn
corporate users about the GNU General Public License,
which Linux is distributed under. "Some of our source
codes are out there and very available, like Windows
CE," Gates said. "Some generally require a license,
like Windows itself. We have no objection to free
software, which has been around forever. But we do
think there are problems for commercial users relative
to the GPL, and we are just making sure people
understand the GPL.

"Unfortunately, that has been misconstrued in many
ways. It's a topic that you can leap on and say,
'Microsoft doesn't make free software.' Hey, we have
free software; the world will always have free
software. I mean, if you characterize it that way,
that's not right. But if you say to people, 'Do you
understand the GPL?' And they'll say, 'Huh?' And
they're pretty stunned when the Pac-Man-like nature of
it is described to them."

News.com's Michael Kanellos contributed to this
report. 

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