Week in review: Linux legal heat

With LinuxWorld in session, the legal war over the operating system escalates as SCO finds itself on the receiving end. Also: SCO outlines plans to license the operating system.

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Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
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Steven Musil
5 min read
The legal war over Linux escalated as the SCO Group found itself on the receiving end of lawsuits and as SCO outlined its plans to license the operating system--all this against the backdrop of the LinuxWorld conference.

Red Hat got things moving at the conference with the announcement that it had filed a seven-count suit against SCO, which seeks, among other things, a declaratory judgment that Red Hat has not violated SCO's copyrights or trade secrets. During a CNET News.com roundtable, CEO Matt Szulik outlined his reasons for taking legal action at this time.

"We have asked the courts to declare that no violation of intellectual property and trade secrets have occurred," the Red Hat chief said. "We've been patient, we've listened. But when our customers and the whole open-source community are threatened with innuendo and rumor, it's time to act."

IBM followed Red Hat a few days later by filing counterclaims against SCO, arguing that because SCO distributed a version of Linux under the open-source General Public License (GPL), it can't claim that Linux software is proprietary. IBM also argues that SCO software violates four IBM patents and that the company interfered with IBM's business by saying it had terminated IBM's right to ship a Unix product, AIX.

IBM is seeking unspecified monetary damages and an injunction to stop SCO from shipping its software. The counterclaims came as part of Big Blue's answer to SCO's $3 billion suit against IBM, which alleges that Big Blue moved proprietary Unix code into Linux and breached the terms of its Unix license with SCO.

For SCO, it was business as usual as the company revealed steep licensing prices for Linux users who want to continue using Linux with SCO's blessing. The new license gives customers the right to use any SCO-controlled Unix code allegedly incorporated in Linux, starting with the 2.4 version of the Linux kernel.

Prices are steep for a free operating system. Introductory prices include $199 to run Linux on a desktop PC, and $699 to run it on a server with a single CPU. The server price jumps to $1,399 after the introductory period ends on Oct. 15. By comparison, Red Hat's standard version of desktop Linux sells for $39.

Penguin power
Not all the news from LinuxWorld was delivered in the form a lawsuit. There were plenty of developments to keep developers and IT managers optimistic.

Software seller SuSE Linux and server maker IBM obtained a crucial security certification that will make the Linux operating system an option for demanding military and government customers. The Common Criteria certification ensures that software meets several security requirements. It also ensures that companies supporting the software meet requirements for documenting security features, handling vulnerabilities and testing products

"It certainly raises the viability and increases the trust level of Linux in government contracts," IDC analyst Chris Christiansen said. Though commercial buyers don't usually give Common Criteria certification much more than passing notice, "the government market is very large," he said.

RealNetworks also gave Linux a boost by announcing plans to release the source code of its audio and video player to run on Linux. With the source code, developers can build tailored versions of Real's audio-video player to run on Linux and Solaris systems.

The code release complements Real's strategy to promote its multiformat system over proprietary systems, such as Microsoft's Windows Media. Real has taken this approach to try to recoup market share in the media software business that Microsoft has gained in recent years.

Silicon Graphics plans to bump the computing muscle in its large Linux system up to 128 processors. SGI, which sells a 64-processor Altix 3000 computer based on the open-source operating system, will release a 128-processor version in spring 2004.

And at Novell, even as management stresses its continued support for NetWare, questions linger about the future of its flagship product, given the company's new Linux focus. Chris Stone, Novell's vice chairman, talked with CNET News.com about what customers need to be aware of.

Wi-Fi unleashed
A loose association of security experts has created a robot to wheel around on its own detecting and reporting the security problems of Wi-Fi wireless networks. The prototype robot, which has not been named, may be the first creature designed for this purpose. The creators hope to sell custom versions of the unit to government agencies and businesses that are worried about the security of their own wireless networks or that hope to break into someone else's.

In its prototype version, the robot weighs about 40 pounds, can reach a speed equal to that of a fast walk and can roll around for three hours at a stretch before using up its power supply. It uses one 802.11b card to eavesdrop on a wireless network and a second card as a control channel to communicate with its owner.

The robot may have plenty of work ahead of it as Wi-Fi networks explode in popularity. Verizon Wireless announced Wi-Fi service for its customers in hundreds of hot spot locations throughout the United States.

Verizon said the new service will expand and speed up its wireless data-service coverage in high-traffic spots that attract travelers, such as hotels and airports. The company is charging $7 to use the service for 24 hours. Unlimited monthly access costs $35.

Go go gadget
Gateway released its first portable music player in a continued effort to expand into consumer electronics. The Gateway Digital Music Player combines three functions in one: It can play MP3 files, it can be used as a portable storage device for shuttling data between two PCs, and it can also function as a digital voice recorder.

Like Sony, Hewlett-Packard and to a lesser degree Apple Computer, Gateway plans to come out with a wide variety of branded household gizmos that can be used, and sold, with its PCs. Overall, Gateway plans to release 50 products fitting into 15 different product categories this year. Internally, the company has formed groups to devise products for the audio, photography, video and home-networking markets.

Sony got into the act with a new plasma TV with built-in broadband networking that is linked to a Web-padlike remote control by wireless LAN technology. The plasma display's networking features allow it to be used for Web browsing, or as part of an intelligent home network, according to a statement from Sony.

The remote control unit can operate independently as a Web pad, or with the main display as a secondary TV screen. It has a small 6-by-3.5-inch display with an 800-by-480-pixel resolution--about the same image size and quality as large handheld computer.

Also of note
European regulators said they have reached a preliminary decision to force Microsoft to give greater technical information to server rivals and to loosen the ties between its media player and the Windows operating system...Merrill Lynch will ban access to outside e-mail services from popular sites such as America Online, Yahoo and MSN, in response to regulatory requirements and to protect its network from viruses...Hackers--including some from federal agencies--are learning about defending networks by breaking into computers...Microsoft's MSN portal said it signed CareerBuilder.com to a five-year deal under which CareerBuilder will replace Monster.com as the portal's exclusive job listings service. The announcement comes a day after AOL Time Warner's AOL unit jettisoned its exclusive arrangement with Monster and signed with CareerBuilder.