Caldera Plans to Keep UnixWare Proprietary

Linux vendor faces credibility questions among users in open-source community

The acquisition by Caldera Systems Inc. of the Unix server and services businesses of the The Santa Cruz Operation Inc. (SCO) has the potential to split the open-source community. And while SCO users said they're relieved to see the products survive, some doubt whether Caldera is the right company to drive them further.

For about $120 million in cash and stock, Linux vendor Caldera last week obtained a strong distribution channel, a sorely needed services operation and the UnixWare operating system, as well as exclusive rights to resell the legacy OpenServer operating system.

Staying True to Linux Roots

Caldera must merge open-source and proprietary product lines without betraying its roots in the Linux community.

Orem, Utah-based Caldera said it would create an "open Internet platform," scaling from thin clients to the data center. On the high end, it will offer UnixWare and an upcoming 64-bit Unix that will result from Project Monterey, a joint effort by IBM and SCO. Both will run Linux binaries, but unlike Linux, their source code can't be freely redistributed.

In a conference call with analysts, Caldera CEO Ransom Love said developers would get access to all Caldera source code, but that Caldera would hold on to ownership of parts of the code. "Ownership [of code] is not a bad thing, it's actually a good thing," said Love. "It protects [code] quality."

"They are walking a thin line between open source and a proprietary operating system," said Stacey Quandt, an analyst at Giga Information Group Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif.

Eric Raymond, a prominent open-source advocate and author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary (O'Reilly & Associates, 1999) put it more bluntly: "If Caldera fails to open-source the core Unix technology, their credibility in the [Linux] community will be more than hurt - it will be utterly destroyed."

Analysts also said they doubt whether Caldera will take over Santa Cruz, Calif.-based SCO's role as a partner in Project Monterey. An IBM spokeswoman said the acquisition's impact on Monterey "has yet to be determined."

SCO has struggled with positioning just two Unix versions.

"As a customer [of SCO], I didn't know if I should upgrade to a newer version of OpenServer or switch to UnixWare, which they seemed to pay more attention to, or if I should wait for them to merge into a single product," said Gene Christian, technical operations manager at Goldsmiths Inc. in Wichita, Kan. Caldera must now balance four operating systems.

"I think there are practical migration problems for [UnixWare and OpenServer value-added resellers] and users that haven't been addressed," said George Weiss, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Group Inc.

Weiss said SCO's UnixWare may not be the ideal Unix version to fulfill Love's vision of a platform that scales to the data center, because SCO's customer base is mainly small and medium-size businesses.

And unlike IBM or Compaq Computer Corp., which are entering the Linux market, Caldera can't offer customers an integrated software and hardware solution, Weiss said.

One SCO UnixWare user, Tom Pratt, an information systems manager at Coastal Transportation Inc. in Seattle, said he's relieved by the deal. "I didn't know how long [SCO was] going to be in business," he said. Pratt said he's now more likely to turn to Caldera's OpenLinux than another Linux version.

Others said they have less confidence in Caldera. "I do think that there are good things about both OpenServer and UnixWare that could be integrated with Linux, but I have serious doubts about Caldera's ability to do it right," said Christian.

Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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