In December 2003, at the same time that a judge’s call for evidence sent SCO Group’s stock price lower, the Lindon, Utah-based company was taking a hit on its Web site, against which malware writers had launched a denial-of-service attack. Just a few weeks ago, the company was hit again by a reportedly similar DoS attack. Overall, SCO has been the subject of a great deal of criticism from the open-source community after charging that its proprietary Unix System V source code was illegally used in IBM’s AIX operating system and Linux distributions.
It is clear that SCO has generated a lot of heated feelings in the industry, Harvard Research Group vice president Bill Claybrook recently told LinuxInsider. “I don’t think too many people like them,” Claybrook said. “The reason is the way they’ve conducted the lawsuit and the contention that anything that goes through System V, they own.” One need go no further than a local Linux-oriented discussion board to see how much debate SCO has generated among Linux proponents.
But when it comes to brass tacks, Blake Stowell, SCO’s director of public relations, believes the company is fighting the good fight, sticking up for its own intellectual property despite the effect this move eventually might have on Linux, the GPL and the open-source community in general. While we have published outspoken perspectives by industry leaders opposed to SCO’s position — such as open-source advocate Eric S. Raymond and free-software proponent Richard Stallman — we have yet to provide a forum for SCO directly.
Arguably, front-man Blake Stowell currently has one of the toughest jobs in the United States — meeting the vitriolic criticism of the open-source community daily and arguing SCO’s case to the press. To get his take on these developments, LinuxInsider turned to Stowell for an exclusive interview.
LinuxInsider: Your company has been attacked — physically by way of DoS and verbally all over the Internet — and you’ve even had to hire personal bodyguards. So, for starters, how are you doing these days — personally?
Blake Stowell: This has certainly been one of the biggest PR challenges that I’ve ever dealt with in my career to this point, but it’s also been one of the most exciting and eye-opening experiences I’ve ever had. I’ve never worked harder for a company, but also never enjoyed the work as much as I have so far with SCO.
LinuxInsider: What’s your general feeling about the open-source community? Or, to put it differently, what’s your philosophy of software?
Stowell: I think that a lot of good has come from the open-source community. The fact that developers around the world can collaborate on projects together to create something for the general good of society is an incredible thing. I’ve worked with a lot of companies and individuals that have made some great contributions to open source. SCO has both contributed to and benefited from open-source software.
The only issue that SCO as a company has had with open source is when elements of the community choose to take proprietary software and contribute it into open source. I don’t think that this is a widespread practice, but I think it’s a problem that has to be addressed. Certainly this has impacted SCO probably more than any other company.
One thing that has been disappointing, though, is the virulent and personal attacks against SCO from some people in the open-source community. We’re a company defending one of our core business assets, and we’re doing this through the courts, as the legal system requires. We should not be subjected to personal insults, physical threats, DDoS attacks and all the other things.
Even reporters who write stories that are not anti-SCO are subjected to tremendous pressure and attacks. It’s troubling that for a community founded on principles of cooperation and openness, there’s this element that is so rigid and violent.
LinuxInsider: How did your background in technology lead you to SCO, and what is your vision of the company’s present mission?
Stowell: A number of factors led me to SCO. I joined the company when it was Caldera in 2001, and I had knowledge of the company from previous work that I had done at Lineo, a sister company to Caldera. I had a certain respect and understanding for Linux and wanted to continue down that path in my career. I could see that Linux was going to be around for many years to come.
While some people might disagree with me and the company, we have no intention of trying to destroy Linux or derail its future. We do, however, firmly believe that there are intellectual property issues with Linux that have to be addressed. Some of those IP issues have impacted how SCO does business. When you think about it, a lot of the value propositions for Linux are also the same value propositions that SCO has provided for decades — it’s Unix on Intel. Businesses have loved the reliability, availability and scalability of Unix on Intel.
SCO believes there have been significant misappropriations of our key Unix-on-Intel software that have caused people to migrate to Linux (because they get all of those same benefits for free) versus continuing on a Unix-on-Intel platform through SCO. Obviously, that has hurt our business, and the company is now asking commercial business users of Linux who are benefiting from using our software to compensate the company through a license fee.
LinuxInsider: Does SCO view itself more as a vendor of intellectual property or of software?
Stowell: It’s really both. Two years ago, if you were to ask an IT professional who owns the core Unix operating system source code, you probably would have received a blank stare. Today, I think SCO has successfully educated the marketplace that SCO owns this core Unix source code from which AIX, HP-UX, Solaris and dozens of other Unix operating systems were derived. In 2003, the company did major licensing deals from this Unix source code to Microsoft and Sun that resulted in millions of dollars in added revenue to the company’s bottom line. We’ll continue to license this valuable intellectual property.
At the same time, we also operate as a software company with sales of our own Unix operating systems, OpenServer and UnixWare — as well as other complementary solution products. This is where the lion’s share of our current revenue comes from. We have a very loyal customer base that continues to depend on these Unix-on-Intel products.
LinuxInsider: Rather than asking you to disclose evidence or talk about some of the legal implications of the initial filing, can you tell us what was the catalyst for filing the lawsuit? Had SCO been planning the move for a long time?
Stowell: Our lawsuit against IBM is ongoing litigation that I unfortunately can’t comment on.
LinuxInsider: On a personal level, in light of all the criticism, have you questioned your role in the SCO-IBM controversy? For example, are you at peace with your job when you go home at night?
Stowell: One of the characteristics of public relations is you’re tasked with representing your company to a number of publics and vice versa. I’ve never worked for a company where its direction was at such odds with one particular public — namely, the Linux community. Does that make my job harder? Absolutely. Do I question my role? Not at all.
I see it as one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever had in my career, and I’m of course very supportive of the company’s efforts in this area. As long as I can go home at night and know that I was honest with the media, I was respectful of another’s point of view and tried to not burn any bridges, I think that I can feel very at peace.
LinuxInsider: Part of your job is to maintain the company’s image. Given that SCO has been sharply criticized, how are you planning to transform the company’s image among open-source advocates after the lawsuit?
Stowell: Open source will probably be around for a very long time to come, and I’m sure SCO will continue to participate in and benefit from open-source software. One way the company might continue to work with and help open source is in putting some mechanisms in place to assure that proprietary software doesn’t make its way into open source. I’m sure this will continue to be a concern among open-source developers going into the future.
LinuxInsider: Do you plan to move into other markets in the future, or are you going to stay focused on your traditional business?
Stowell: Every business has to change along the way, but I’m confident that SCO’s future business will continue to involve the customer set that we’ve always been focused on through our company’s reseller channel: small-to-medium businesses and branch-office retail customers.
LinuxInsider: What do you think are some of the most interesting developments in the tech sector today?
Stowell: Probably the merging of consumer electronics and high tech. Who would have thought 10 years ago that Apple and HP would someday sell customers iPod digital music players? Or that Dell and Gateway would offer plasma televisions? Or Microsoft would introduce the Xbox?
LinuxInsider: Anything else you’d like to add?
Stowell: Thanks for giving me the opportunity to tell a side of the story that not many people get to hear.