When SCO Sued IBM over Linux


The Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) was a really fun place to work. We had a hottub and there was usually beer in the fridge and everybody hung out all hours of the day and night. It was really great.

I was part of a small team that created what we called ‘Cypress Linux’, based on Mandrake Linux and intended to serve as a prototype for what would become ‘SCO Linux’. We demo’d Cypress Linux to the execs and we got the green light - make it happen.

We created a pretty solid Linux distribution but just as we were nearing the finish line the company got sold to Caldera, a Utah company that made ‘Caldera Linux’. Rumors floated that Redhat and others were nervous about SCO releasing a Linux distribution so that triggered some offers from Redhat and, successfully, Caldera to buy the company. I do not know what happened, I was not privy to those discussions.

The upshot is, The Santa Cruz Operation was sold to Caldera.

IBM Lawsuit

Caldera renamed itself to SCO and sued IBM over what it claimed were copyright infringements, claiming that IBM had taken code from SCO Unix and integrated that code into Linux. This is a famous case and not the point of this article. The point of this article is that I was deposed by a flock of IBM lawyers.

The Deposition

I drove to a nice conference room in a hotel in Scotts Valley where I was met by the SCO lawyers who introduced me to the IBM lawyers. We gathered around a long table in the conference room. SCO had two lawyers, IBM had more than my fingers could count. Guess what they wanted to question me about? SCO Skunkware.

IBM apparently was formulating some theory that SCO was distributing all sorts of open source and therefore they had no right to claim someone stole their code because they released all this stuff under an open source license. Or some such. I explained, for hours and hours over the course of two days what Skunkware was, what the licensing for Skunkware was, what open source is, the difference between SCO Unix and Skunkware, and everything. Over and over.

The IBM lawyers also asked a lot of questions about my personal website, There was a bunch of open source software on my website! Yes, that is the software laboratory I wrote as part of my Ph.D. thesis in Mathematics at the University of California at Santa Cruz. The software creates a laboratory to explore chaotic dynamical systems and was released under an open source license.


One thing that got a lot of attention from IBM was references to GNUnix in the Skunkware website. David Eyes had come up with this idea of releasing UnixWare under an open source license and calling it “GNUnix”. It was a clever play on words, “GNU” being a recursive acronym standing for “GNU is Not Unix” but we were proposing to make Unix GNU.

I thought that was a great idea so I jumped on board. We prepared a proposal for management to review.

Of course, management shot us down pretty quickly. In retrospect, given the fact that SCO went down in flames and a judge ruled that SCO did not even own the copyrights to the Unix source code, it seems like management probably should have approved the idea.

The idea that SCO was thinking of releasing Unix under an open source license really got the IBM lawyers hot. They could not let go of the notion that SCO was treating Unix like it was open source.

The End

I do not know how my deposition played into IBM’s legal strategy but I did get two free lunches and now I can say I was deposed by IBM.

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.