In a bizarre turn of events, SCO has sued IBM for not less than $1 billion, claiming IBM willfully destroyed SCO’s business by handing its intellectual property over to the Linux movement.
SCO’s version of history is a very strange one, talking about a large market for x86 Unix that IBM stole from it. Which brings up a question: what large market for x86 Unix?
In the mid 1990s, if you wanted to run a server on x86 hardware, you ran Novell Netware, or, increasingly, Windows NT. SCO’s products were around, but they were niche products even then. When you thought about Unix on x86 in 1995, Linux and FreeBSD were as likely to come to mind as UnixWare or Xenix–the two Unix products that ended up in SCO’s possession.
It’s 2003 and people are thinking really seriously about Unix on x86, probably more seriously than they were thinking about it in the mid 1980s when Microsoft was pushing Xenix.
The way SCO tells it, comparing Linux to Unix before IBM came around was like comparing a bicycle to a limo. But by 1997, Linux was getting mention in magazines that wouldn’t dream of talking about anything SCO was selling. And that was three years before IBM started spending billions on Linux.
Now keep in mind that SCO was a sinking Unix vendor that got bought out by Caldera, a sinking Linux vendor, who woke up one day and realized they were actually making a pittance off SCO Unix, as opposed to the money they were losing off Linux, so they changed their name back to SCO. But SCO is Caldera. And in the early days of Linux, Caldera was the #2 Linux vendor, behind Red Hat. Now they’re badmouthing those early days. I guess that tells you how much regard SCO has for Caldera Linux. Not that I held it in much regard either. The installation program let you play Tetris while it installed, and I thought that was pretty cool. Unfortunately it turned out to be the best thing about it. So I formatted the drive and installed Red Hat 6 and never paid attention to Caldera again.
Today there is a large market for x86 Unix. But pre-Caldera SCO didn’t have much to do with it. Caldera played a minimal role. Post-merger SCO has even less to do with it. IBM had a role, but its psychological role played a much bigger part than the code it’s contributed. IBM gave it legitimacy. It’s one thing when a second-rate startup like Caldera stands behind a new operating system. It’s quite another when white-collared IBM stands behind it.
I read some speculation that what SCO is really trying to do is blackmail IBM into just acquiring the company rather than bothering with the nuisance lawsuit. Considering their market capitalization is a piddly $35.2 million, and that’s after a 40% surge that followed this lawsuit, that sounds like a pretty likely bet to me.