23 Aug 2003 raph   » (Master)

Pattern analysis

Here's a little amateur "pattern analysis" of my own. On one side, this quote from a c't interview of SCO's Chris Sontag (translated from German original by "Apogee"):

c't: You are acting fairly belligerent on this forum. You declared war against open source, since it becomes destructive for the software industry. Does the whole movement have to die so that a few software companies can live well?

McBride: Actually, that was more aimed at the GPL, not open source as a whole. There's a lot of very valuable effort in open source. But the extreme interpretation that nobody himself owns anything that he developed himself, that can't remain like this. With this, created value gets destroyed. The GPL must change or it will not survive in the long run. I have discussed with many exponents of the open source side about this already.

On the other side, Bill Gates, in the keynote address of the Microsoft Government Leaders Conference in Seattle, April 2002:

"Then you get to the issue of who is going to be the most innovative. You know, will it be capitalism, or will it be just people working at night? There's always been a free software world. And you should understand Microsoft thinks free software is a great thing. Software written in universities should be free software. But it shouldn't be GPL software. GPL software is like this thing called Linux, where you can never commercialize anything around it; that is, it always has to be free. And, you know, that's just a philosophy. Some said philosophy wasn't around much anymore, but it's still there. And so that's where we part company."

I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist myself, so I'll leave it to the rest of our crack IBM-funded* team of rocket scientists to run the spectral recognition and see what comes out.

* Full disclosure: in point of fact, IBM is a significant customer of my employer. Irony abounds, no?


I'm find Steven Rainwater's suggestion of an organized counterattack against SCO appealing, but ultimately I think our interests are best served by acting honorably and being careful to tell the truth. That way, the contrast between our approach and SCO's should be most apparent, even to lawyers and judges.

Even so, I want to acknowledge the incredible feeling of anger that is rising in me. It is incredibly unfair that a bunch of opportunists can hire a bunch of unethical* lawyers, stir up a tremendous amount of press for their increasingly outrageous lies, and ultimately profiting through insider stock trades, while those of us who actually create value by making software have to struggle.

Of course, I realize that the world is under no obligation to be fair, but the very institutions which claim to uphold justice and fairness, namely the courts and the press, seem compromised. I'm quite sure that when Judge Kimball finally rules on the case, he will not be kind to SCO. But this could take years. In the mean time, the press and the stock players continue to take SCO quite seriously, just on the basis of having filed a multibillion dollar lawsuit.

In the long term, this case could be very good for Linux and free software in general. It is very clearly a case of good guys vs. bad guys. The SCO execs and lawyers are, in fact, playing the latter role quite admirably. As such, I think the story has a much better chance of playing to the public than a dry philosophical debate over copyright, the public domain, and the public interst. It also has a much better chance of playing to the public than a venture capitalist-fueled hype wave, which, keep in mind, is the last taste the mass public has gotten of the Linux story.

So I think there is something we can do. Most newspapers at least pay lipservice to factual accuracy. Adopt your local paper and hold them to it, at least for articles on the SCO case (of course, no harm is done if this effort spills over into other aspects of free software). When doing so, be very professional. Don't fight FUD with counter-FUD. Concentrate on clearly verifiable inaccuracies, and provide journalist-friendly support for all your claims.

* Among the ethical lapses of Boies, Schiller, and Flexner in the SCO case, the clearest and most egregious are making of frivolous claims, and being a party to all the lying. The firm is not new to ethical controversy, including misrepresentations in the 2000 election case. Indeed, a Bar grievance committee in Tallahassee recently found probable cause that Boies had violated rules against misconduct. I sincerely hope their role in the SCO mess does not go uninvestigated.

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