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Novell plugs open source, dings SCO

A Novell executive says the intellectual property foundations of open-source software are sound. "Sorry, Darl," he says in a jab at SCO chief Darl McBride.

SAN FRANCISCO--Open-source software is forcing improvement in the computing industry, and the SCO Group's attack on Linux is wrongheaded, a senior Novell executive said Tuesday.

Novell, which bought No. 2-ranked SuSE Linux earlier this year, believes the intellectual property foundations of open-source software are sound, Novell Vice Chairman Chris Stone said during his keynote speech at the Open Source Business Conference here. And the Waltham, Mass.-based company is using its position as an earlier owner of Unix to counteract SCO's attack.

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"We still own Unix. We believe Unix is not in Linux and that Linux is a free and open distribution--and should be and always will be," Stone said. In a jab at SCO Chief Executive Darl McBride, he added, "Sorry, Darl. Al Gore didn't invent the Internet, and you didn't invent Linux or intellectual property law."

SCO, a company that bought Unix intellectual property in 2001 and asserts ownership of Unix copyrights, argues that Linux infringes its Unix intellectual property. The company is suing Linux users as well as IBM over the matter. Novell, an earlier Unix owner, argues it still owns the Unix copyrights, which has forced SCO to sue to settle the matter.

SCO didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Chris Stone, vice chairman, Novell

With open-source software, programmers collaborate by sharing the underlying source code freely, a method that stands in stark contrast to the secrecy of the proprietary software realm. Linux is the best-known example, but open-source software has spread to many other parts of the software business, including Eclipse for programming tools, OpenOffice for word processing and Apache for Web site software.

Because open-source software by its nature can't be sold only by a single company, customers can switch more easily and software sellers are therefore forced to concentrate on the proper ways to maintain customer loyalty, Stone said.

"Open source forces vendors to focus on the big issues--customer satisfaction, innovation and support," he said.

The way for a company to profit from open-source software is to find which products compete with it and how they complement it. Typically, that means companies can profit by selling software or services that rest on an open-source foundation, he said.

"The value of the business is higher up. That's where you pay attention," Stone said.

For Novell, that means looking beyond Linux itself. "It's not in the operating system, folks. It's much higher up the stack," Stone said. "The last thing I'd like Novell to become is the Linux company."

Stone also argued that open-source software isn't shoddy, as some critics suggest. "Open-source procedures produce better code," he said. "It's not weak code at all. It's very good stuff."

One reason for the quality is that programmers are motivated not by what a boss is telling them to do but by what they want to do. "You really get the personal touch out of all this," Stone said.