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Caldera, SCO deny takeover talks

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According to reports - well, one anyway - Caldera Systems and the Santa Cruz Operation are in discussions which could see the Linux company acquire SCO's OpenServer and UnixWare operating systems. SCO also owns the rights to the Unix trademark, and sits atop a pile of ye originale AT&T Unix code, some of which it's been judiciously leaking as open source over the past year.

Smart Partner, the US channel publication formerly known as Smart Reseller but renamed to sound like a dating title, reckons that if successful the negotiations would see SCO's Tarantella division head off under its own steam. That would leave SCO to concentrate on services, effectively becoming Caldera's service division but with a remit to look for Any Other Business.

Whacky stuff, right? Well the two do have some similarities, most notably a religious reliance on indirect distribution channels. And the two have devoted much of their energy into going after the same business: SMEs, retail and replicated sites.

Despite competent distros, and the hypervisibility of its CEO Ransom Love (we reckon there are at least three of you, Ransom) Caldera has tackled the desktop and enterprise markets without gaining a significant lead in either.

SuSE and Red Hat have hired or contracted much the cream of open source developers who have big systems know-how, and SuSE has a formidable arsenal of former CIOs and of course, its European advantage; while Red Hat is well, Red Hat. And on the desktop, despite pioneering usability improvements, Corel's Linux and the forthcoming Eazel distro these days are the most cited distros for beginners, or Windows-weary consumers.

Never a favourite with either Unix bigots or Wall Street, SCO has nudged its revenue stream to clinching bigger backoffice deals thanks to UnixWare. No mean feat given the number of ancient OpenServer systems out there running on ancient PC hardware, managed by businesses reluctant to fix something that ain't broken.

SCO is generally credited with rescuing UnixWare from the mess Novell made of it, and turning it into a 64bit-ish, SMP-capable, cluster-ready OS that has comfortably fended off the threat of Windows NT/2000. Or at least where rational decisions are still made.

But for some time now, SCO has had to fend off the perception that Linux is about to eat its lunch, even though it doesn't seriously compete in the internet and networking infrastructure businesses where Linux and the free BSDs play such an increasing role. And too, it's suffered from the post-New Year dip in enterprise spending.

We suspect that SCO will cut deals, even big deals, to show that it can co-exist with the Linux boys, but it's too proud of its R&D to simply become another small-scale service company. Services simply isn't something that SCO has traditionally done, leaving it in a large part to its channel. And it would be a cruel boss indeed who'd dispatch his engineers from the beaches of Santa Cruz and bars of Capitola to the booze-free, caffeine-free salt lakes of Utah.

SCO also has development commitments to Monterey, which would surely expire pretty rapidly in the hands of a Linux owner.

Far more likely we reckon is that the two could strike up co-operative distribution arrangements which cut out the channel duplication, which could potentially offer customers a Unix for every occasion. That's effectively what they did yesterday in any case, by trumpeting an arrangement whereby Caldera will offer a five-user license deal to use its Tarantella middleware on Caldera's server Linux.

Santa Kremlinologists might note that SCO's annual August jamboree, traditionally called SCO Forum, has been renamed Forum 2000. Perhaps long-standing SCO baiter Eric S Raymond, who is scheduled to deliver a keynote at the event, will be able to stand up and announce the New World Order. We doubt it. ®

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