RealTime IT News
Microsoft Buys Into SCO Group's Unix
By Thor Olavsrud
May 19, 2003

Microsoft threw its weight behind SCO Group's battle against Linux Monday by declaring that it would license Unix technology from SCO in order to "ensure intellectual property compliance across all Microsoft solutions."

Microsoft's license covers a patent and source code from Unix.

SCO claims that the Linux kernel holds Unix intellectual property owned by SCO. The company has moved to hold IBM responsible, unleashing a $1 billion lawsuit against the company for misappropriation of trade secrets (though not copyright infringement, to date). Still, the company has conceded that some of the alleged Unix code in the Linux kernel predates IBM's involvement with the operating platform, and has warned commercial Linux users that they may be held liable for using it.

While open source legal experts have argued that SCO open sourced that Unix code when it distributed its own version of Linux with the allegedly infringing kernel, that hasn't stopped Microsoft from backing up SCO.

"There are many companies in the IT industry who acknowledge and respect the intellectual property of software," said Chris Sontag, senior vice president and general manager for SCOsource, the company's intellectual property division. "With this announcement, Microsoft is clearly showing the importance of maintaining compatibility with Unix and Microsoft's software solutions through their software licensing. This important step will better help their customers implement Unix and Windows solutions."

Sontag would not go so far as to say that Microsoft was sending a message to IBM by licensing its technology, saying that it was a standard licensing agreement because "Microsoft now has more services for Unix products and wants to increase the compatibility and integration of Unix into these products."

However, he did say, ""If there were a greater message to this, it would be the more visible recognition of SCO as the owner of the Unix operating system. SCO has been doing these types of licensing agreements for many years, but the fact that we own Unix had slipped under the radar. This agreement reflects a renewed visability of SCO as a strong viabile company with products and IP that are in demand by the IT industry."

Also, while declining to comment on the terms of the deal, he said that it and another SCOsource licensing deal from the company's fiscal second quarter had a cumulative value of more than $10 million.

It's not the only step the two companies have taken to give Unix and Windows common cause against Linux in the datacenter. SCO also announced Monday that it has worked with Center 7 to create SCO Authentication for Microsoft Active Directory, giving end users the ability to use a single log in for a mixed Windows and Unix environment.

"Many organizations today manage complex network environments running Windows, Unix and other various operating systems," said Opinder Bawa, senior vice president of Engineering and Global Services at SCO. "Authentication within this mix of systems is typically insecure and difficult to manage. SCO Authentication for Microsoft Active Directory allows IT professionals to seamlessly integrate Unix-based system logins with the secure authentication technology they've already paid for in the form of Microsoft Active Directory."

The product uses Kerberos security protocols for authentication, and allows administrators to manage either from the Microsoft Management console or the Unix command line. SCO is offering the product in base packs that include 25 directory users starting at $999 for RISC Unix. The company said additional licenses are available for $20 per seat, sold in incremental packs.

Unix Background

Unix was developed at AT&T's Bell Labs in 1969, but its history since then has been convoluted at best, leading experts like Open Source Initiative President Eric Raymond to delineate definitions for various operating systems that fall into the Unix family. Raymond uses "genetic Unix" to describe those operating systems which are derivative works of the original Bell Labs Unix.

Outside contributors, especially academics working from UC Berkeley and other institutions, supplied much of Unix's development after 1975, according to Raymond. Around 1980, Berkeley Unix hackers added Internet capability to the code base. By 1990, the relationship between AT&T's Unix Systems Laboratories (USL) and Berkeley had soured, leading to a three year lawsuit with a settlement that severed Berkeley's version of the Unix source, BSD, from AT&T. In 1992, the Unix trademark passed to the Open Group, a technical standards consortium which now maintains the Unix standard. Unixes which adhere to and verify conformance with the standard are "trademark Unix" operating systems.

The Bell Labs code passed from AT&T to USL when AT&T spun it off in 1992 in a joint venture with Novell (the Unix trademark went to Open Group -- then known as X/Open -- as part of the deal). Novell bought AT&T's stake in USL in 1993. The property then passed from Novell to SCO in 1995. Meanwhile, the Unix universe had seen a birth of a number of other Unixes, including:

  • AIX, IBM's Unix, a proprietary genetic and trademark Unix developed between 1987 and 1990
  • Solaris, the proprietary genetic and trademark Unix used by Sun Microsystems
  • SCO Open Server, SCO's version of Unix, a proprietary genetic and trademark Unix dating back to the early 1980s
  • BSD, an open source genetic Unix, but not a trademark Unix, which now has three variants of its own
  • Linux, an open source variant developed in Finland in 1991 which Raymond said is neither a genetic Unix nor a trademark Unix.

SCO added UnixWare, the brand name carried by late versions of Bell Labs' Unix, after it acquired it in 1995. In the meantime, to further muddy the picture, System V, the Unix that later evolved into UnixWare, borrowed from 4.4BSD, leading Berkeley to sue.

"It seems that from as far back as before 1985, the historical Bell Labs code base has been incorporating large amounts of software from the BSD sources," Raymond said in OSI's position paper on the SCO-vs.-IBM complaint. "The University's cause of action lay in the fact that AT&T, USL and Novell had routinely violated the terms of the BSD license by removing license attributions and copyrights."

The lawsuit was settled and the record sealed.