Double-spinning Caldera faces open source backlash

"We don't have to give everything back in a free fashion." Oops.

Although Caldera CEO Ransom Love gave a bravura performance in conference calls yesterday after the company announced its intention to buy-out SCO's UnixWare product and services businesses, the path to ascendancy is far from smooth. And Love might just have made it a bit rockier with conflicting messages to the press and financial communities about just how open SCO's intentions are.

Meanwhile, the husk of what's left of SCO - surely soon to be renamed Tarantella Inc., a name it's already incorporated - faces a tricky rope bridge to cross which largely depends on a rapid growth of Tarantella software continuing before its cash supply is exhausted. More of that in a moment.

Caldera's problem is this: the crown jewels of the acquisition are a mature server Unix, and clustering technologies. The Linux environment in which Caldera operates expects these to be returned as open source, and frowns on the laggardly time-release ploy used by TurboLinux. But Caldera has little choice but to take such a route, as it indicated yesterday.

Love gave the same message, but with very different emphasis, to the press and financial analysts in turn.

Given a virtual room full of Linux-knowledgeable hacks Love emphasised a policy of "Innovate, put back - innovate, put back." But Wall Street heard quite a different spin.

"The business world is asking for freedom of choice - they don't care as much about ownership." he told financial analysts. "I'd say they like someone to have ownership so they can provide responsibility. We intend to provide our technology in an open access mode and not necessarily giving it away in the public domain."

And hackles might rise further at this remark:

"We don't have [our emphasis] to give everything back in a free fashion," Love insisted to the financial analysts. "Ownership is a key component in ensuring quality." So there.

To the press, Love pointed out that GPL software is of course owned - by the Free Software Foundation - but the emphasis on not giving it away that Wall Street's finest heard could still mean trouble. Love is being pragmatic for two very good reasons - UnixWare is an old code base which contains many additions which will be extremely difficult to open source, for copyright reasons. It isn't trivial: recall that SGI's XFS journaled file system took nine months longer to release as open source code than expected. And the UnixWare NSC (Non Stop Clusters), a co-development between SCO and Compaq based on Tandem's NSC, is of course still used in Tandem systems and owned by Compaq. Compaq insiders tell that chances of that source code emerging are zero.

"We intend to provide our technologies in an open access mode - not necessarily giving it all away in the public domain or under one of the licenses that forces us to give our technology back," said Love.

So yesterday Love talked of the need to observe a "social contract", to which we can already hear open source advocates asking "Show us the contract..."

Finally Caldera has acquired contractual commitments to continue the Monterey development on IA-64 (IBM is doing its own portion for PPC RISC.) Given that IBM is expensively lauding its Linux commitment in primetime TV adverts right now, and that Caldera is a Linux company, we're curious just how this will pan out. The Linux IA 64 Project, formerly Trillian, is taking aim at exactly the same business that Monterey is aiming at.

Meanwhile, it emerged yesterday that SCO, which has been left with Tarantella and the OpenServer Unix, will need to hand back 45 per cent of what it receives on OpenServer revenues to Caldera. SCO said it expects the company to lose money for some time, and that profitability would be reached once Tarantella was grossing about $8m of revenue a quarter, after the payment to Caldera. Last quarter Tarantella grossed $2.3m, up 40 per cent on the previous quarter, but still someway short of what's required. SCO has been left with a cash pile of slightly over $30m, and it looks like it will need every cent. ®

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