SCO Licenses UNIX Technology to Microsoft

Citing the need to ensure compliance across its UNIX-based products, Microsoft licensed from SCO a technology patent and source code to the UNIX operating system.

The revelation has sparked heated discussion and speculation among open source advocates questioning the intentions of Redmond. But Microsoft representatives have remained mum, letting company lawyers do the talking.

"The announcement of this license is representative of Microsoft's ongoing commitment to respecting intellectual property (IP) and the IT community's healthy exchange of IP through licensing," Microsoft counsel Brad Smith said in a statement. "This helps to ensure IP compliance across Microsoft solutions and supports our efforts around existing products like Services for UNIX that further UNIX interoperability."


SCO, formerly known as Caldera, began its intellectual property push in March when it sued IBM for over $1 billion, claiming UNIX technology was misappropriated and built into the open source Linux operating system. As one of the largest backers of Linux development, IBM proved an easy target for the struggling SCO. Although, industry experts hypothesized the lawsuit was simply a ploy to court a purchase by Big Blue.

After failing to get a rise out of IBM, SCO last week sent letters to 1,500 corporations warning of potential liabilities for running Linux.

"We believe that Linux infringes on our Unix intellectual property and other rights," the letters read. "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."

The Linux community reacted with anger to the news, asking SCO to present proof of copyrighted code used unlawfully in Linux. SCO has refused to provide any public evidence, however, waiting until the matter goes to trial.

SCO also suspended the sale of its own Linux distribution and withdrew from UnitedLinux, an initiative to create a unified version of Linux. "SCO is taking this important step because there are intellectual property issues with Linux," said Chris Sontag, general manager for SCO's intellectual property division.

Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy said users of Solaris, also based on UNIX, have nothing to worry about. Sun had received a "free and clear SCO license" a decade ago, according to McNealy.

Microsoft joins Sun as one of the thousands of companies that have licensed UNIX, says SCO. SCO's Sontag echoed Microsoft's need to protect itself and ensure compatibility with UNIX.

"There are many companies in the IT industry who acknowledge and respect the intellectual property of software," said Sontag. "With this announcement, Microsoft is clearly showing the importance of maintaining compatibility with UNIX and Microsoft's software solutions through their software licensing."

But open source advocate Bruce Perens took a different stance entirely, backed by Linux companies eager to fight SCO's claims. "Microsoft hardly needs an SCO source license," Perens said. "Its license payment to SCO is simply a good-looking way to pass along a bribe, coupled with an announcement designed to further intimidate Linux users."

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