For those who have not heard, SCO has recently just been set back significantly, perhaps permanently, in their effort to systematically disable the entirety of the Free and Open Source Software community. Their slimy move to acquire the license and patents to UNIX for the sole purpose of turning around and suing those who benefit from its free descendants, both for profit in consulting and for free in use, was despicable, and was only compounded by their evident lack of actual respect for the technology, giving up any attempts to actually do any good with it after only a handful of half-heartedy, feeble starts.
The point has been brought up, of course, that SCO is right in its claims. That the case is a landmark for the future of Intellectual Property rights, and that the precedent set could set an entirely alien course on the entire software industry as we know it. There is some truth in the argument, but there is also a great deal of fear, uncertainty, and doubt being slung around. While it may or may not be true that in their recreation of the UNIX platform, the GNU project stepped beyond the bounds of the haven of reverse engineering, I think it’s quite honestly several steps too far to infer that by any means this case will open the floodgates for a deluge of stolen intellectual property.
The case of UNIX’s descendants is a very unique one. There are very few cases in our modern world of computing where such a feat must be accomplished to create a viable free alternative to an existing or entrenched commercial standard. OpenOffice.org has reverse engineered Microsoft’s Office document formats for the sake of compatibility, but there is absolutely no point to be had in fully duplicating the entirety of Microsoft’s Office – indeed, if such an effort were to be attempted, it would probably never see the light of day given how counterproductive and impractical it would be. In fact, Microsoft is releasing the new OOXML (Office Open XML) format as a standard; this is a step towards convergence, compatibility, and choice, even if Microsoft’s true intentions are suspect and indivinable at this juncture.
I think that whether SCO is right or not, there is something to be said for the greater benefit of technology and humankind in having a fully functional, viable, and free alternative in Linux. It’s a very solid fact in today’s technological world, something that’s done and said and is here to stay, and to challenge its existence for profit alone as SCO is doing is purely malicious. Even if the FOSS community gains significant traction and uproots the current model of the commercial software industry, it would be an absolute lie to say that there is no money to be had in open source software.
The future is now. It’s time to start living in it.