SCO to yank SGI's Unix license

The software company expands its battle over Linux by pledging to revoke the Unix contract held by high-end computer maker Silicon Graphics Inc.

David Becker
David Becker Staff Writer, CNET News.com
David Becker
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3 min read
High-end computer maker Silicon Graphics Inc. is in line to become the next target of Linux opponent SCO Group, with the controversial software seller threatening to revoke SGI's Unix license.

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SGI revealed the expected move in a regulatory document filed earlier this week with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The filing included a statement detailing the company's plans to revoke SGI's license to distribute products based on Unix code that SCO controls. The move would mirror similar actions that SCO took earlier this year against computing giant IBM, SCO's main opponent in its legal battle against the open-source Linux operating system.

"We have received a letter from SCO Group alleging that, as a result of our activities related to the Linux operating system, we are in breach of the fully paid license under which we distribute our Irix operating system," the SGI filing said. "The letter purports to terminate our Unix System V license effective Oct. 14, 2003. We believe that the SCO Group's allegations are without merit and that our fully paid license is nonterminable. There can be no assurance that this dispute with SCO Group will not escalate into litigation."

IBM, one of the biggest corporate proponents of Linux, came under attack from SCO early this year when the software maker filed a $3 billion lawsuit accusing Big Blue of illegally incorporating SCO-controlled Unix code into Linux software distributed by IBM. The case has gone on to challenge the foundations of the Linux movement, with SCO promising to bill Linux users and threatening legal action against companies and individuals who don't shell out licensing fees.

SCO executives singled out SGI's XFS file system software for Linux during an August presentation in which they identified potentially infringing Linux elements.

SCO's letter doesn't mention any specific pieces of software. It says that by contributing to unspecified software products, "SGI flagrantly permitted the copying and use of our proprietary information."

Greg Estes, vice president of corporate marketing for SGI, said the SCO letter was vague and wasn't followed by any attempt to discuss the issues.

"They haven't talked to us about any specifics," he said. "We got a letter from them--I wouldn't characterize that as negotiation. We didn't even get a courtesy call from them."

Estes said SGI was confident it was in compliance with all conditions of its non-terminable contract with SCO, which covers the Irix version of Unix included on most of the systems SGI ships. "We don't intend to stop shipping our Irix systems," he said. "We think the allegations are totally without merit."

SCO spokesman Blake Stowell said the company had identified SGI software some time ago as containing illegal contributions from SCO Unix, and executives decided it was time to press the issue. He declined to comment on what steps SCO would take if SGI continues to distribute Irix past the Oct. 14 deadline. "That's a bridge we'll cross when we get there," Stowell said.

In an open letter posted today on its open-source development site, SGI acknowledged that it has found a few inadvertent contributions of SCO code to its software, but it promptly remedied all such problems by rewriting the code and distributing patches.