SCO, Microsoft, and Linux

by Brian Jepson

Robert X. Cringely speculates on what's really going on with SCO, Microsoft, and Linux. I think his basic point is right (that SCO kicking up FUD will create an opening for Microsoft to leverage Unix or Linux in a proprietary way), but a peek at an existing product, as well as one that's in beta right now, suggests something simpler than "Windex" may be in the works.

Services for Unix

Cringely says "I can only come to the conclusion that Redmond is thinking of actually using that license, selling its own version of Unix." I believe that Microsoft is covering its butt because they already sell their own version of Unix (sort of). It's called Interix, and it ships as part of Services for Unix.

(And yes, "gcc", "g++", "g77", and "gdb" are not typos; Microsoft ships
GNU software *and* charges money for it :-) On top of that, my
understanding is that there is significant proprietary goop between
Win32 and Interix such that you couldn't build anything useful out of
the sources that the GPL requires Microsoft to ship, but I'd welcome corrections on that point.)

Microsoft Virtual Server

But wait--there's more. Microsoft recently acquired a chunk of Connectix, Virtual Server. With Virtual Server, Microsoft
now has the technology to embed multiple operating systems within a
Windows 2003 Server. The first stated target for this is Windows NT, so
that users will be able to run legacy code alongside Windows 2003 without destabilizing the core operating system.

Since Virtual PC supports many flavors of Unix, why not embed an SCO flavor of Linux into Windows Server 2003 Web Edition ($399, no per-seat licenses), and say "OK, we've got all the advantages of Linux plus more."? This could be an optional package, an Interix on steroids, and they could offer it for free
(or perhaps it would be serviced through SCO).

OK, time to come back down to earth: I think Microsoft won't get in the business of shipping Unix. Instead, they'll point to the Virtual Server technology and say, "bring any x86 Unix you damn well please; it will run in this sandbox, and SCO won't sue you because we licensed Unix from them."

What do you think? Is there really anything to read into this weirdness or is it totally random?


2003-05-31 15:40:38
Should that not be GNU/SFU? And safer with GPL/Linux
See Microsoft and the GNU Project.

A bit of History, Softway Systems wrote the NT DDL POSIX compatablity Layer in 1995, and Microsoft aquired Softway in 1999. The OS level was written to the POSIX standards, which insure royalty-free patent access via decades of prior-art.

Microsoft's SFU and Interix products are in no way dependent upon the IP that SCO holds.

If Microsoft just wanted to extend SFU without further violating either SCO's ( now claimed as Novell's ) intellectual property or the GPL, it can do exactly what it did with the NT/2000/XP TCP/IP stack - embrace and extend the source from the unencumbered BSD varients.

It should be noted that not only IBM but Suse also claimed to have deals with SCO, this did not stop SCO turning around and publicly threatening them with lawsuits.

In fact...

If you are concerned over the treat of lawsuits over intellectual property then you are actually in a better legal position using GPL'ed Linux than using Microsoft's products.

While SCO has yet to provide any publicly available substantial evidence in their case against IBM and Linux, Timeline Inc has already won a US Washington Court of Appeal judgment against Microsoft in another contract dispute.

Unlike companies like Oracle Corporation and others, Microsoft chose a cheaper option when licensing Timeline Inc's Data base technology. That license puts developers and users of Microsoft SQL Server,Office and other Microsoft product at risk of being sued by Timeline Inc for violation of Timeline Inc patents.

Microsoft's products do not provide users and developers an absolute safe haven from the threat from lawsuits based on violations of intellectual property. Microsoft's EULA provide the developer and end user with no protection against threat from current or future intellectual property lawsuits.

However, since the SCO Group has knowingly sold and distributed the GPL licensed Linux kernel and other components, it must by the terms of the GPL license, provide all those who receive the code from them an implicit license to use any intellectual property, patents or trade secrets which SCO owns and is used by the GPL'ed source code. That implicit license to that SCO intellectual property is also granted to anybody who subsequently receives the GPL source.

The GPL only grants the right, for reasons of intellectual property infringement or contractual obligations, to stop distributing the GPL'e binaries and source code if the conditions are imposed upon you by a third party. Since SCO claims ownership the intellectual property in question, it must grant all subsequent recipients of the GPL licensed source code SCO has distributed and any GPL'ed derivative, the same implicit licence and right to SCO's intellectual property the code imposes upon.

SCO has acknowledged deals with Suse and Lindows to distribute SCO's intellectual property in GPL'ed Linux, but the GPL license does not grant anyone or any organization the right to append extra terms and conditions upon the recipients of the GPL licensed source code.

It is very easy to effectively fold the current development branches of the Linux kernel and any other GPL'ed code back into SCO's distributed GPL'ed sources. This would grant the same implicit license for the infringed SCO intellectual property to the all the current development.

You are in a better legal position using the GPL'ed Linux platform and other GPL'ed software, than you are using Microsoft's or any other closed source software.

2003-06-01 05:32:02
Virtual Server? Why?
Why would anybody buy Windows and install Linux on with Virtual Server? Especially for a SERVER?

The reason companies run Linux is because it's cheaper than buying Windows. If you're going to be buying Windows, that reason is gone.

You might counter claim that Linux is more stable than Windows. That might have been true before MS switched to the NT kernel from the Windows 3.1-95-98-ME mess - today it's really not that much of a consideration despite the hype.

Linux is a compelling product mostly because it's cheaper. From 1993-1997 Linux was *clearly* superior to Windows in terms of stability, and it didn't make much inroads then. Of course, then a computer cost $2K, I'm using a $300 1 Ghz machine to write this now. Hardware cheap enough now to make Windows a significant part of the cost of the solution.

2003-06-01 06:24:46
Virtual Server? Why?
VMWare has a similar product: this page does a good job of explaining the benefits.

I think Microsoft is adding this to their arsenal in part to let people keep running end-of-lifed operating systems (NT 4.0), but also to allow their customers to run Linux without losing the sale of a Windows license.

2003-06-01 06:48:35
Virtual Server? Why? NGSCB backward compatibility!
In my opinion Microsoft's acquisition of Connectix's Virtual Server technology has very little to do with running any other vendors operating system.

Microsoft needs a Virtual Server for backward compatibility for it's NGSCB ( Next Generation Secure Computing Base ) DRM ( Denial of Rights Mechanism ) platform.

Just as Microsoft's XP backward Win9x compatability opens up many locally exploitable API to gain SystemLocal privilege access, to the point where many programs need Adminstrator privilege to run, existing XP and win2k software would open up too many opportunities for helpfull hacker to bypass Microsoft's NGSCB DRM mechanisms.

Microsofts all too obvious solution is to provide a "Virtual" PC mode, running a modified XP and WinME, with the NGSCB providing virtual filesystems and hardware access. All, access of course, with the NGSCB DRM scanning and control.

Where do you want to go tomorrow?