Weird and Wonderful


2004 Utah Bonehead Award

Darl McBride



For pure unadulterated stupidity many could vie for the coveted 2004 Utah Bonehead Award. But none is more deserving than SCO head, Darl McBride. The guy is certainly not stupid. That is not why he is getting the award. It is for displaying a certain cluelessness at the obvious consequences his company has suffered, deserved or undeserved, and will continue to suffer, at the hands of the open source community after his company opened an assault on Linux end-users.

For starting a war he cannot win, Darl McBride gets the coveted 2004 Utah Bonehead Award.

For those unaware of McBride and his Utah-based SCO Group, a little back story is in order. SCO is a company that specializes in selling UNIX based software. As a success story, SCO falls somewhere in between the Ford Edsel and the new Coke. From 1994 to 2002 the company posted losses in the hundreds of millions dollar range.

Enter McBride. Through the wheeling and dealings of many computer corporations, SCO ended up with rights to certain outdated UNIX code. McBride, sensing that SCO could not dig itself out of its hole by creating new software, decided to try another tack. He resorted to that tried and proven business method of modern America -- he started flinging lawsuits around like crazy.

First on the lawsuit calendar was computer giant IBM to the tune of $1 billion (later upped to $3 billion). McBride claims that IBM illegally contributed SCO-owned UNIX code to the Linux kernal.

The way Linux works is that it provides its codes (unlike Microsoft that keeps its code locked up like buried gold) to anyone. The theory is that having access to the code allows enterprising programmers to make changes to Linux-based programs. These improvements are passed on, making Linux better. Not a bad idea. Linux makes use of all the computer geeks dinking around with its programs to create better software. The computer geek gets all the Linux stuff gratis and is free to play around with the system. It seems like a win-win situation for everybody -- a global community hell bent on creating a better cyber world for all.

Not everybody was happy with this computer nerd utopia. Mega-giant Microsoft has made billions keeping its code shut off from the rest of the world. Recently, Linux has been prying loose Microsoft's iron grip on servers and desktop operating systems. I'm sure Bill Gates would love to see Linux do a major crash and burn.

Now I am not saying McBride is a dupe for Microsoft, but his lawsuits are doing the giant a huge favor.

McBride's claim that IBM illegally used UNIX code that SCO owns in the Linux kernal is really hard to judge. SCO has been less than forthcoming in identifying just which code IBM appropriated. And just who owns the code SCO has seen fit to identify remains in doubt. Novell also claims ownership of some of the UNIX code that SCO calls its own. Linux users say that much of the code is in the public domain.

Perhaps expecting IBM to cough up the dough just to avoid the nuisance of the lawsuit, McBride seems to have been caught off guard when the company chose to fight back.

This precipitated the first of many idiotic (in my opinion) moves by McBride and Co.

McBride next took aim at the Linux corporate end-user. He says that any company using Linux owes SCO licensing fees. This could add up to tens of thousands for many companies. Needless to say, Linux users were incensed. And pissing off a bunch of computer savvy folks is not the smartest idea.

When SCO began experiencing attacks from computer hackers, McBride voiced anger and surprise. What the hell did he expect? If you head into the Ozarks, claim that you own the rights to bullet casings and ask gun-toting mountain types to pay up, do you really believe they will fork over the cash without complaint? No matter the right or wrongs of your claim, bullets are gonna fly and mostly in your direction.

Soon cooler heads prevailed. Many in the Linux community said, "show us the offending code and we will hack it out." Instead of moving towards this overture of appeasement, McBride made his second, and probably most devastating, bonehead move. In an open letter to the open code community, he attacked its very existence. He claimed that open source was unconstitutional and implied its philosophy was somehow un-American.

Now you can call this declaration of war many things, but a smart move to mollify the Linux community is not one of them. Open source advocates are passionate if nothing else and they have the computer know-how to back up their passions.

The first post open-letter salvo has been fired by hackers (probably of the Linux variety). The much-reported MyDoom computer virus was aimed squarely at SCO. Among other things, it was created to overwhelm SCO with bogus information requests, a move calculated to send the company's web site spinning to the earth in flames. The second part of the virus took aim at Microsoft, another open source foe that many believe is in cahoots with SCO. Both companies have offered sacks of reward money to catch the offending hackers.

This has all the earmarks of an opening shot in a very dirty, all-out jihad. One I don't think McBride can win, especially if he gets his victory in court and forces Linux users to pony up the cash. In that case, open source advocates will really be pissed, and all that pent up rage and computer savvy will be aimed at SCO and Microsoft. Bill Gates' giant can probably weather the shit storm and come out okay. SCO won't be so lucky.

McBride's company will play the role of the American armed forces to the open sourcers Viet Cong. Those guys are expert at guerilla warfare computer-style. And if you take away Linux as a toy with which they can play, all that firepower is going to be aimed solely at crushing SCO. Like the Cong, they will have unlimited time to devote to this objective and nothing to lose.

I don't know the merits of McBride's contention that SCO owns the copyright for UNIX codes contained in Linux. Maybe he is right and maybe he is wrong. The courts will decide that. It is for starting a war that he cannot possibly win that McBride gets the 2004 Utah Bonehead Award.

Maybe he hopes that he can walk off with a wad of cash before SCO crumbles down around his ears. However, I have a feeling that he won't be getting much in the way of forgiveness from the open source crowd. So he had better lock up his money in the most computer-protected software he can find, because his credit rating, personal info and anything else stored on a database are going to be one big fat target.