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Article

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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Most Recent Comments
Dr Paul J Brewer 12/08/03 01:37:04 AM EST

Mr. Jensen:

Thank you for inviting me, as an academic, to comment on this issue.

The article perpetuates several myths, but I will focus on one in my area of expertise (economics) that Linux, being "free" (like free beer), produces no tax revenue and thus is undeserving of protection by self-interested government.

This fallacy stems from a static analysis rather than a dynamic one.

Assuming that large profit oriented companies are indeed attempting to maximize profit, those who choose to include Linux in their O/S portfolio must believe that in the proper applications, it contributes to Total Profit = Total Revenue - Total Cost. When companies make more taxable profit, they do pay more tax.

This additional profitability could occur in a number of ways: improving or enabling productivity in a narrow, but important, niche to the company like specific kinds of web services or cross-platform communications.

I do not dispute that Windows may be cheaper to maintain for very basic uses, but for advanced applications, Linux often has an advantadge in that most of its basic components are well-identified and at least partially documented. This makes possible the design of Linux applications which are not possible on Windows either because the necessary hooks to low level functions do not exist or are unavailable to the small to medium size enterprise without very rare, expensive talent or insight.

That the Linux community more or less publishes all of the know-how means that over time, the supply of knowledgable linux programmers will increase whereas the limitation and expense of knowledge and know-how in proprietary systems will mean the supply of professionals in those systems will either stay flat or increase at a much slower rate.

Fredrich Hayek wrote that the wonder of the free (as in liberty) market is that no one person has the totality of knowledge necessary to understand or direct what is going on within the economy. Attempting to take control destroys the very economic system that generates fantastic benefits. I wonder what he would have thought of free software....

One can make rough inferences from observing the marketplace, and I for one believe that officials do take notice when a large well-respected company like IBM stands behind the Linux O/S.

Incidentally, IBM has one of the largest collections of technology patents in the USA. While IBM mostly uses this collection defensively, company officials certainly understand the value of intellectual property and understand fully the stance on intellectual property that GPL and Linux advocates represent.

And that IBM stands behind it, must mean, at the very least, that it is good for IBM's business and that of their clients. And, to borrow a tired cliche, what's good for business is good for America :-)

Dr. Paul J Brewer
Economics Department
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

NeilL 12/08/03 01:25:49 AM EST

There has been plenty proactive activity. Unfortunately it is difficult to fight such an elusive foe on the facts alone. Groklaw is busy transcribing and swarming over every contract and motion in the public domain. I'm sure the kernel developers are ready to act on any incorrect submissions that may ever have happened.

An inevitable part of being deliberately kept in the dark is that every paranoid possbility will be explored. And guess what, we find out things like the fact that TechCentralStation, a supposedly libertarian site with a surprising pro-SCO/anti-OSS agenda, is owned by a company that has received payments from Microsoft to further its aims.

I see no reason for the linux community to beat itself up too much. Most of the responses I've seen have been far more reasonable than SCO's executives and their cohorts have been. The diversity you find in the linux community is one of its gratest advantages. I don't expect to agree with Richard Stallman, or Eric Raymond 100% of the time, but I value their opinions.

As for the more excitable elements of the community, as long as they do not claim to speak for us all, all power to them. Who knows where the next revelation will come from. Might the tin hat brigade hit paydirt? They well might.

Anonymous 12/08/03 01:20:08 AM EST

"Industry gadflies spewing vitriolic nonsense into the public discourse unwittingly expose the void in their credibility..."

Yeah, I think I see what you mean.

Alex 12/07/03 11:58:03 PM EST

Mr. Jensen,

Your intentions are obviously good, but your approach is clearly misguided, and it is insulting to those of us in the community who've been doing good anti-SCO work for some time. Let me point you, if I may, to the work by Eric Raymond, Eben Moglen, Lawrence Lessig, and most important of all, Pamela Jones and the whole crew at www.groklaw.net.

You'll also find good anti-SCO work at www.mozillaquest.com, Frank Sorenson's page, Tim Ransom's page, and in the work of several good journalists, such as Sam Varghese, Robert McMillan, and Steve J. Vaughn-Nichols

To start learning what the community has already been doing, I'd suggest starting at the Groklaw site, where important anti-SCO work has been taking place since May 17th. This site is run by Pamela Jones, a community organizer and paralegal who's put together a team of lawyers, kernel hackers, sysadmins, ordinary Linux users and knowledgable researchers who prowl the Internet looking for clues into an anti-FUD powerhouse. After you've read the good, SCO FUD debunking work that's been taking place at Groklaw, and after you've caught up with those of us who have been debunking SCO FUD for the past six months, you'll be well equipped to discuss what the community is actually doing.

Alex

Tim Ransom 11/30/03 01:32:00 PM EST

It appears that the only research you did on this flame bait was reading Rob Enderle's Per$pective$ 'articles'.
I suppose Columbia Law Professor Eben Moglen doesn't qualify as an academic or lawyer in your opinion (sigh). Also, the brilliant research and commentary found on Groklaw, while perhaps a little to dense and sophisticated for laymen like yourself, stands as a monument to cross disciplinary professional collaboration, and has proven effective in countering FUD such as that found in this piece.
After Groklaw published their Letter to Darl, did you happen to notice that the invoicing campaign suddenly withered into dust, in spite of Enderle's assertions that the letter was counter productive?
The Linux community seems to be doing quite well without the transcendant and seering insight you seem to think you have, yet are unwilling to share, considering the complete lack of it here.
Disclaimer:
I could be ANYBODY. Pretending that the wingnuts who respond to your FUD are somehow ambassadors of the OSS or Linux 'communities' is ridiculous - please tell Rob E if you run into him.
Thanks so much

Anon 11/30/03 01:31:18 AM EST

"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."

There are plenty of misperceptions in your article. The above quotation illustrates a common misperception deliberately and deceptively fostered by SCO and its representatives.

A SCO win in the IBM case, unlikely as that may be, does not necessarily, or even probably "scuttle" Linux.

SCO admits that the code IBM contributed to Linux is owned by IBM, not SCO. If IBM had an agreement not to contribute its own code to anyone and IBM broke that agreement, SCO is entitled to be compensated for monetary damages done by IBM.

In that case, far from "scuttling" Linux, IBM would pay SCO and that would end the case. Darl McBride predicts up to 15 years of legal back and forth before that happens if it ever happens. Darl may be right about that.

Did the contributions IBM made openly in early 2000 with the full knowledge of Caldera (now-SCO) and now-Tarantella violate any contracts? We'll let a judge decide. Caldera seemed to think not in all of 2000, 2001 and 2002.

If those contributions did violate SCO's contracts, Linux will be much closer to unaffected than to scuttled.

Thomas Frayne 11/29/03 10:00:42 PM EST

I took your suggestion to get proactive last September. I filed a complaint with the SEC, accusing SCO of stock market manipulation.

Since then, I have actively participated in GrokLaw, helping to analyze and refute the many lies publicly stated by SCO's officers and lawyers.

Meanwhile SCO's actions in court are pitiful.

In the Redhat case, the best they could do was to claim that there was no controversy because they hadn't threatened Redhat, after they had been publicly threatening Redhat for months. The judge is ready to rule on SCO's motion to dismiss the Redhat suit, and is expected to rule any day now.

In the IBM case, SCO has been proclaiming its case in the press since March, but has consistently refused to state its specific claims, either publicly or in court. A hearing on IBM's motion to compel SCO to answer IBM's interrogatories is scheduled for December 5. Perhaps then we'll see an answer to IBM's main question: "What is this case about?"

Speaking of FUD, that's what I think your article is, and I wonder how it happened that an article dated October 2 showed up on Google News as posted 1 hour ago.

Louis 11/22/03 11:09:40 PM EST

See http://www.groklaw.net I think you may find something interesting.