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MontaVista Says SCO Not A Threat to Embedded Linux

Embedded Linux specialist MontaVista Software Thursday, looking to assure embedded Linux customers that they have little to worry about from questions about Linux's legal status, joined the growing list of Linux distribution firms rebutting the claims of SCO Group that Linux is an unauthorized derivation of its Unix intellectual property.

On Aug. 5, SCO began offering the SCO Intellectual Property License for Linux, telling commercial Linux customers that they must buy the license to "avoid infringement of SCO's intellectual property rights in Linux 2.4 and Linux 2.5 kernels."

SCO claimed its rights include embedded versions of Linux: "A license is required for each embedded system that is using SCO IP in a commercial distribution of Linux. The embedded license grant is for a single CPU, irrespective of the number of users of the embedded device," SCO said in a statement on Aug. 5, adding that the license costs $32 per single CPU, embedded device.

So far, aside from launching the Linux licensing program, SCO has only turned its legal guns on Linux in the form of a multi-billion lawsuit against IBM , which alleges breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets for releasing portions of AIX code (IBM's flavor of Unix) to the open source community. SCO claims the code was fundamental to the implementation of binary emulation (libraries) and SMP scaling support code (like NUMA), which made Linux an enterprise-class operating system on IA-32 and IA-64 platforms.

It has, however, warned commercial Linux users that they could be held liable if they don't purchase one of its licenses.

While MontaVista said it believes SCO's case has little legal standing -- "MontaVista Software believes that the lawsuit has no real merit, and so has minimal or no implications for companies developing embedded applications with MontaVista Linux, nor for users and consumers of Linux-based devices," MontaVista said -- the firm noted that even if SCO does have a case, it means little to embedded Linux.

MontaVista said almost all SCO claims center on the development of Linux as an enterprise-class system, and that the firm has said that its complaint only applies to versions 2.4 and later of the Linux kernel, meaning that versions 2.2 and its derivatives are excluded from the claims.

MontaVista said IA-32 and IA-64 account for less than 20 percent of all embedded deployment and that a large portion of embedded Linux projects were deployed with and still run on embedded configurations of the 2.2 Linux kernel. Also, MontaVista said that for its part, it only includes architecture-specific, application-relevant code in MontaVista Linux for each architecture and board it supports.

Additionally, the firm said, "There is no real intersection among portions of kernel code that changed between 2.2 and 2.4 AND code that possibly contains SCO-contested code AND that are relevant to embedded (i.e., diskless, headless, small footprint, non-enterprise) applications."

Finally, it noted that high-end, embedded systems that do, in fact, employ enterprise-class features, like SMP and library emulation, account for less than 10 percent of all Linux deployments.

"Consequently, the total possible scope of SCO's claims would cover less than 10 percent of all embedded Linux configurations," MontaVista said. "Based on our practices and those of our embedded industry peers, we believe that even an estimate of 1 percent would be optimistic on SCO's part. Why then, does SCO insist that ALL embedded Linux deployment is subject to their licensing demands."

But SCO spokesman Blake Stowell, said that is not SCO's position.

"If an embedded manufacturer is using Linux based on the 2.2 kernel, then they have no worries," he told internetnews.com. "SCO has repeatedly said that it's the 2.4 kernel and above that we are most concerned with. We haven't said that all deployments are subject to our licensing demands. We've only said that deployments based on 2.4 and later are subject to our licensing demands."

However, he did point out that SCO's claims are not just based on contributions made by IBM (though that is the sole focus of its legal battle currently) to SMP and other high-end computing functions.

"If that's all it was, then embedded probably would not require a license. There's more than just the IBM contributions that have taken place. There's line-by-line code. There's obfuscated code as well," he said, explaining that "obfuscated code" is code that has been changed to try to hide the provenance of the code.

That claim has come under fire in recent days, since a German journalist attending the SCO Forum in Las Vegas took pictures of slides purporting to show SCO's evidence of code that had been taken directly from Unix and placed into Linux.

"On August 18, 2003, at SCO Forum in Las Vegas, SCO reportedly presented (under NDA) sections of identical SCO Unix and corresponding Linux code," MontaVista said. "A representative of the German press in attendance photographed the slides, revealing the 'hot' code to be legacy Unix source that was freely licensed under the BSD copyright and had indeed been freely distributed in books and by SCO themselves as part of 'Ancient 16-bit Linux."

Stowell waved aside the claim that the code was already freely available.

"We stand behind our claims," he said. "We know where this code came from. We feel sufficiently qualified to be able to identify this code as the owners of the Unix operating system."

On the basis of its arguments, MontaVista said customers should not delay development and deployment of embedded Linux.

"Delaying a commitment to Linux will only delay your company's move to the leading next-generation embedded platform," the company said. "Delay will slow your access to key technology and business innovation. While SCO's actions may present a visible, short-term annoyance, we believe the risk of any outcome adverse to Linux is very low, and is nothing compared to the risk you face by staying with outmoded and proprietary embedded platform software."

But Stowell argued "If any embedded developer is using the 2.2 kernel, then they should rest easy. But if they're using an embedded version of Linux based on the 2.4 kernel, then they should consider a license from SCO."

Meanwhile, MontaVista added that it protects its customers from technical and legal risks through warranties on all editions of MontaVista Linux and indemnification against claims involving the code it creates and delivers. Additionally, the firm argued that until SCO files another suit, only IBM bears any financial risk from the current legal battle: "Open Source legal authority Lawrence Lessig points out that OEMs are effectively protected by IBM's position that neither trade secrets nor copyrighted material were disseminated into Linux. If the courts agree with IBM, no OEM would have to pay SCO; if the courts favor SCO, any award granted to SCO from IBM would settle SCO's claim -- they would not be able to charge twice (IBM and you) for the same IP," the firm said.

MontaVista maintains that SCO has shown little evidence of its claims.

"MontaVista agrees with the majority of opinion in the Open Source and business communities that SCO is very unlikely to prevail in this lawsuit," it said. "To date, SCO has provided no real evidence to back up any of its claims, and has pointed to no specific programs that it feels were misappropriated."