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SCO Admits To Not Knowing Own Code History in Recent Q&A

SCO Admits To Not Knowing Own Code History in Recent Q&A

From the start, questions have surrounded the process and people SCO used to determine the alleged code violations in Linux. There is the phantom MIT mathematics department team which MIT itself can’t identify and which SCO has since said were people with former MIT mathematics department relationships, not MIT employees.  These former MIT people have still not stepped forward and given anyone an indication that they are up to the task, what methods they used, or that they even exist. 

 

The MIT problem casts doubt on the process SCO uses to identify allegedly infringing code but now we have to wonder more deeply about what steps SCO is taking to validate or understand its own claims.  Is it just a Jr. programmer at SCO that has been grudgingly tasked with writing some simple scripts to do some string comparisons?  When you hear SCO mention that just a few people at the top of the company are involved with the case, and none of these people have much history in UNIX code development, you get the idea that SCO’s internal discovery process is pretty thin.

 

On Tuesday, SCO published an open letter here. The letter is mostly posturing with very little information but the interesting thing is that on Thursday, Computer World came out with a Q&A with CEO McBride on the SCO letter.  In this Q&A, CEO McBride states, “Well, at SCO Forum, there were some folks that came out and basically sniffed out some of the [disputed System V] code we were showing and [concluded] that it emanated from SGI.”  That this code “emanated” from SGI was news to SCO.

 

Immediately after the SCO Forum, SCO stated that it should be in a position to know where disputed code came from.  But these SCO statements were another case of SCO officially guessing wrong, given McBride’s comments this week.  SCO showed this week that it has no idea what the history of a particular snippet of code might be – even a high profile snippet like the one SCO highlighted at SCO Forum.  It’s no surprise that SCO has shown ineptness again but there is more going on here than ineptness.

 

If SCO had no idea of the history of the code they showed at SCO Forum, that means they probably also have very little or no idea about the history of the other snippets of code that they alleged infringe.  More clearly, SCO does not know the history of the UNIX historical code base or its own code.

 

Let’s extend this thought a little further.  If SCO did not know the history of the SCO Forum snippets, their lack of  knowledge confirms that SCO did not do any detailed digging on even the most public chunk of code they have made available to the public so far.  If SCO couldn’t verify a poster child code example, it’s very safe to say, they have no spot method (per snippet) and no systematic method (millions of lines) for determining the history of any of the code in their legal claims.  SCO may be doing string comparisons to say code X looks like code Y but, as the SCO Forum example shows, SCO needs to dig far further than this to prove any type of infringement exists. That SCO accepts the Raymond / Perens conclusion as both correct and as new information, shows that SCO is not performing these checks, even on a per-snippet basis for code they choose to show.

 

From another perspective, we can also see in McBride’s comments that SCO is, unfortunately, using the analysis of Raymond/Perens to attack SGI.  This reliance on Raymond and Perens shows two other things are happening:  1) SCO is using the analysis of the open source community above its own analysis (or lack thereof), and 2) SCO does not seem to have done any work that can refute the Raymond / Perens analysis.  Not only can SCO not do the checks itself, this shows that even on a per-snippet basis, SCO has no hope of matching the credibility of analysis of the open source community.  SCO should be afraid of identifying any more code because they would have no earthly idea what the history of the code might turn out to be. Court will be a nightmare of surprises for SCO - just like SCO Forum.

 

So, for all purposes, it’s safe to say SCO and its crack legal team just can’t do the deeper historical analysis needed here.  Would a junior programmer be able to produce the findings that the open source community can?  No way.  Such an individual simply would not have the depth of historical knowledge to know where to look.  Eric Raymond and Bruce Perens are very smart, highly experienced individuals.  SCO has nobody on its staff with similar levels of knowledge of the UNIX family tree history and the various licensing actions and cases over they years that have opened UNIX to the public at various times and in various ways.

 

That SCO turned to an alleged MIT team admits they don’t have the resources in house to begin to tackle the job of researching code history.  String comparisons yes; code history, no.  And this job is not about writing an algorithm, as MIT mathematicians might be wont to do, this is all about historical, bookish research.  Now that the MIT team seems to be missing in action, it may be all up to SCO senior managers and executives and yet, I don’t see anyone in that group with the ability to make these determinations either.  SCO needs an Eric or a Bruce and they can’t get one.

 

Having no idea if its claims have merit has not stopped SCO so far so we can expect more from SCO along the lines of big claims with no merit.  And merit has risen up again with the open source code analysis having more merit within SCO than even SCO’s own analysis.  With little hope of ever effectively analyzing the history of the code, SCO is simply placing a tall order on the side of hope and wishful thinking when they claim "code infringement."

More Stories By Paul Nowak

Paul Nowak first used Linux in 1995 while migrating from Sun to Linux at the University of Michigan. He used Linux in subsequent IT projects including web, telecom, telemetry and embedded projects and is currently CIO of a small professional association based in Washington D.C.

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