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Let's Turn the Tables on the Meaning of FUD

Time for the Linux community to get busy

'Don't wait for years while IBM and SCO slug it out,' Tyler Jensen tells the Linux community. His advice? 'Get proactive.'

Now SCO Group has really kicked over the hornet's nest. Nobody cared when Caldera (SCO's former incarnation) sued Microsoft for damaging the market viability of DR DOS, but how dare they target IBM and drag Linux through the mud? The audacity of it all.

SCO suing IBM and suggesting that enterprise Linux users pony up for a license to avoid litigation are actions that have roused frenzied and passionate reactions from Linux users and the press. Responses range from pooh-poohing SCO's claims to nearly libelous attributions of subversive and gang-like actions and intentions. Such rhetoric harms the defense of Linux and illustrates the ill-advised act of self-representation in the adversarial process.

Impassioned retorts like, "SCO's subversive claim on Unix is false," and rallying cries such as, "We need a court-ordered injunction on SCO's threats to Linux users," do nothing useful. They merely add kindling to criticisms of the Linux community alleging that it's full of anarchist technofreaks incapable of understanding the principles of law and business that govern the modern enterprise.

Industry gadflies spewing vitriolic nonsense into the public discourse unwittingly expose the void in their credibility and damage, not help, the case of Linux. Such inflammatory arguments only confuse the question of whether Linux is a viable enterprise operating system, free of significant market and legal risk. The participation of dispassionate, well-reasoned professionals, journalists, and academics – and maybe even a few lawyers – is clearly required.

Like a dragon that should be defending its vulnerable underbelly from the knight's sword, the Linux community has struck out blindly, ferociously at its would-be assassin, leaving itself exposed and ignorant of the danger of such a puny enemy.

Is the knight the enemy, or is the true enemy the dragon's pride and arrogance? Cavalier assertions from Linux community leaders that users have nothing to worry about are naïve and irresponsible. Reliance on SCO's history of Linux distribution and the provisions of an untested GPL is based on an equally unsure foundation.

Now the Linux community considers SCO Group its enemy. This emotional reaction is understandable, however much misguided. But the elephant in the room here is the dangerous assumption that SCO has concocted a scheme to defraud IBM and the Linux community. This assumption is as vulnerable to collapse as the premise upon which it is based.

That premise is that the Canopy Group (SCO's largest shareholder) and many seasoned executives hatched and approved this plan, put their names to it, then recruited the lawyers, including the highprofile David Boies and his Washington, DC, law firm. This includes convincing them to go along with this bold scheme and ignore the risk of exposure and damaged reputations.

The grandest flaw in the premise is the idea that this gaggle of executives and lawyers could have convinced a judge and panel of appellate court justices certain to hear the case...that, despite having no case, these judges would accept and participate in this evil plan. The premise is absurd.

If SCO prevails and the Linux ship is scuttled, the true enemy of Linux will be found in a Linux community mirror. The first face you'll see there will belong to IBM. Assuming SCO's allegations are true, the damage done to Linux will be directly attributable to IBM, not SCO.

Don't look for the government to step in. Linux is not a protected political child like prescription drugs for seniors. No politician or judge will make his political bones stroking the geek vote. The only thing you'll get by chanting "Free Linux" and marching on the court house steps is laryngitis.

Legislators are equally predictable. You won't see "geek vote" on demographic histograms in political campaign offices. Don't expect your congressman to get enthusiastic about upsetting the intellectual property apple cart – a tax cash cow for government programs.

In the end, the United States will do what is in its best economic interest. Generating virtually zero tax revenue, Linux does not fit into that picture. A capitalist society protects its streams of revenue first, a protection Linux will not likely enjoy.

So what can the Linux community do? Get proactive. Throw out the reactive nonsense. Don't wait for the next several years while SCO and IBM slug it out.

Individuals and companies who have access to both code bases should start digging. If there is a smoking gun, don't wait for the court to find it. Show it to the world then fix it, so the world can continue enjoying the benefits of Linux.

Of course, proving a negative is difficult, but this is not mission difficult, Mr. Hunt, it's mission impossible. So quit complaining and get busy.

This is a community full of intelligent participants. It's time they got busy defending their work intelligently, cleaning their own house. It's time to meet Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt with a Factual, Useful Defense.

More Stories By Tyler Jensen

Engrossed in enterprise application architecture and development for over ten years, Tyler Jensen is a senior technical consultant in a large health intelligence company, designing and developing claims processing and analysis software. In his spare time he does a little writing and outside consulting.

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