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In a potential boon to Microsoft Corp. and other proprietary software companies, the owner of the Unix operating system filed a $1 billion lawsuit against International Business Machines Corp. for allegedly giving away trade secrets in its open-source Linux programs. SCO Group, which acquired Unix in 1995, claims IBM is freely distributing proprietary code by converting aspects of its own Unix variant into a Linux product. IBM spokesman Joe Stunkard said Friday that the complaint was “full of bare allegations with no supporting facts.” Linux, a Unix derivative first developed in the early 1990s by a Finnish college student, has in recent years gained in popularity because of its low cost, reliability and ability to run on inexpensive computer hardware. Though SCO claims it is targeting IBM alone in the suit filed late Thursday in a Utah state court, analysts say it could cast uncertainty over all companies that offer Linux. “The people who would really benefit are folks like Sun Microsystems and Microsoft because this casts some fear, uncertainty and doubt on the Linux market and will cause some folks who were about to embrace Linux to pause,” said David Freund, an analyst at Illuminata. SCO denies it is attacking the Linux or open-source movements. In fact, it offers its own distribution of Linux. “Our issues are only about people we have licenses with and have contractual commitments that they need to keep,” said Darl McBride, SCO’s chief executive. “It’s not a debate about the merits about proprietary versus open-source software.” He declined to talk about the possibility that other Linux distributors, such as Red Hat Inc. or SuSE Linux AG, might be sued. McBride also declined to talk about other large computer vendors moving toward Linux, including Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc. Sun, which is SCO’s largest licensee and has only recently started offering Linux-based systems in addition to its Unix-based Solaris servers, said its customers have nothing to fear. “This makes the Solaris Operating System a safe choice for customers moving forward,” the company said. Bruce Perens, an open-source software pioneer and consultant, called SCO’s case baseless, particularly the claim that IBM could not on its own develop an operating system for Intel microprocessors. After all, IBM produced the first Intel-based PC as well as an operating system, OS/2. Perens, who said SCO’s lawsuit is an effort to position itself for a takeover by IBM or Microsoft, does not believe the allegations will harm the open-source movement. For years, Microsoft has tried to muster doubt. “Do you really think SCO can do what Microsoft failed to do? I think that people in the industry will see this case as ludicrous,” Perens said. Unix was first developed by AT&T’s Bell Laboratories for minicomputers in the late 1960s and commercialized in the 1980s. Other companies created their own versions, and AT&T distributed copies free of charge to universities. By the early 1990s, inexpensive processors from Intel Corp. and other chipmakers were powerful enough to support Unix-like operating systems. Linus Torvalds, a student at the University of Helsinki, developed a derivative that could run on Intel-based personal computers. Torvalds allowed Linux to be freely distributed over the Internet as long as developers made their improvements available to all. Over the next decade, Linux attracted hobbyists and those who abhorred Microsoft’s Windows and its business practices. At the same time, companies including IBM, Sun, Hewlett-Packard, SGI and others continued to develop commercial-grade Unix. But Linux has matured in recent years. For years, IBM has developed a Unix variant called AIX, which it continues to support. IBM now says, however, that it will also support Linux on everything from supercomputers to workstations. SCO acquired control of Unix intellectual property from Novell, which had bought the rights in 1992 from AT&T. Last month, SCO posted a first-quarter net loss of $724,000 on revenue of $13.5 million. It derives most of its sales from two Unix-based products, OpenServer and UnixWare. “Overall, this is a ‘Hail Mary’ pass being thrown by a company that has not had a lot of success winning in the marketplace,” Freund said. Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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