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Defying Gravity

By Maryfran Johnson
January 19, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The most powerful software company in the world would love to kill it off. The most ridiculous software company in the world can't stop suing over it. Yet Linux marches triumphantly onward and will be preening its new-product feathers this week at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in New York.
Against all odds, the open-source operating system has steadily grown up from grass roots to widespread enterprise use, adopted by CIOs and senior IT managers who value its cost savings, its price/performance and the alternative it offers to a lifetime sentence of Microsoft Windows. Its influential cadre of vendor supporters, aggressively led by IBM and Hewlett-Packard, now includes all the major software, hardware and networking vendors (with the notable exceptions of Microsoft and lawsuit-happy SCO Group, of course).
Even the lurking shadow of SCO's $3 billion lawsuit against IBM over intellectual property rights to Linux -- and the pipsqueak vendor's threats to directly sue user companies -- has done nothing to dampen IT or business enthusiasm. No fear. No uncertainty. No doubt. In fact, the past two weeks have been especially busy on the penguin watch. Hardly a day passed without another Linux story bobbing to the surface. Consider the following:

  • SCO finally ended 10 months of legal foot-dragging by delivering some of the infamous disputed code to IBM . At last, a look at the smoking gun? Nah. Not a single example of those alleged copyright violations that we've all heard about ad nauseam. The central issue seems to be boiling down to contract language, like how the two companies were defining things like derivative works. Spare us the details.
  • Novell stepped forward to indemnify its newly acquired SUSE Linux enterprise customers against legal actions by SCO . HP took a similar protective stance last September. Sun Microsystems also shields its customers from such legal assaults. It's time that IBM and Red Hat stepped forward to do the same, isn't it?
    "Anybody that sells code should indemnify their customers," as analyst Bill Claybrook at Harvard Research Group Inc. so aptly put it in our story. "If they're selling software products, then they should stand behind their products."
  • Open Source Development Labs Inc. announced its $10 million legal defense fund against Linux copyright-infringement lawsuits by SCO.

  • Security researchers in Poland announced that they had found a new flaw in the Linux kernel , but users promptly shrugged it off as no big deal.
    "I would say [Linux] is more secure than Microsoft and other environments, because the code is looked over by so many people," explained John Cahill, senior network security engineer at Piedmont Natural Gas Co. in Charlotte, N.C. "It's so widely available that any vulnerability can be quickly identified and patched."

  • A U.K.-based Web site published an IBM internal memo in which CEO Sam Palmisano challenged his company to migrate to Linux desktops and other open-source-based tools wherever possible .

  • A Linux platform for government and corporate users in Asia was announced by Japan's Miracle Linux Corp. and China's Red Flag Software Co. . Japan, China and South Korea are all climbing on the Linux bandwagon in hopes of diminishing the dominance of Western software companies in the operating system and applications markets.

Soif these early days of the new year are any indication, Linux and open-source will turn out to be the liveliest technology space to watch in 2004. Who says flightless birds can't defy gravity?
Maryfran Johnson is editor in chief of Computerworld. You can contact her at
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