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Lindows.com claims SCO immunity via Caldera deal

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Lindows.com has jumped into the SCO legal maelstrom by claiming immunity from it. In an announcement yesterday the company cited a 2001 "business agreement" with Caldera which gave Lindows.com "technology for certain product initiatives" in return for "certain considerations from Lindows.com".

You can just feel those uncertainties lapping higher around you ankles with each of those certains, can't you? Applying some educated guesswork to this study in imprecision we can postulate that the agreements Lindows.com claims it has with SCO stem from discussions it engaged in with Caldera during its construction phase. These may or may not have resulted in some form of deal which covers Lindows against being busted by SCO for claimed infringements in the Linux kernel. But unless SCO now says, 'By George, Mr Robertson, you're right, you're entirely clean,' the matter can't be settled without lawyers at dawn.

Whatever Lindows.com's certificate (if indeed it is even on paper) says, it is most certainly not a fully-notarized document signed-off willingly by the current SCO regime of IP police. Lindows.com's nimble hopping between SCO and Caldera suggests that any commitments it has derive from cuddlier and more open regimes gone by. That does not mean they don't add up to something SCO might wind up having to honour, but it quite possibly wouldn't like having to do so. And depending on the nature of these maybe-deals, they might suggest other outfits could profit from a swift dig for the half-buried skeletons of old Caldera undertakings.

From Lindows.com's point of view, of course, whether or not it has immunity has no great immediate relevance. SCO has currently trained its guns on IBM, a nice big fat Unix target, and rattled sabres over Linux, intimating disclosures (under NDA, to analysts) of the alleged sins of the Linux kernel shortly. It's reserved the right to sue both end users and Linus Torvalds, but neither is likely to be in the immediate crosshairs. End-user companies should "suspend any new Linux-related activities until this is all sorted out," but in effect this is a FUD gambit rather than a promise to sue users who don't.

As and when it actually starts deploying the lawyers SCO's most rational (we use the word with some hesitation) strategy is to apply pressure to the companies who're having most success in the commercial Linux arena, so start with IBM (again), Red Hat and SuSE. The potential victims most assuredly care, not because they think there's a strong chance of their businesses being buried and/or an injunction cutting off their air supply in the short term, but because their target customers will feel threatened, and are likely to hesitate. This won't help SCO's sales, but it could prove sufficiently disruptive to help Microsoft stem corporate defections.

Which means the companies with their hopes riding on Linux business sales are going to have to do some near-term confidence boosting. Or cut a deal with SCO? Unlikely given the collateral ordure the first one to do this would acquire.

Lindows.com, happily, doesn't have to get unpopular by breaking ranks because it has, it says, a deal prepared earlier which covers it anyway. But given that SCO isn't going to bust individual consumers, and it'll be several years down the line in a hypothetical world before its lawyers are mopping up the last of the resistance this is not an immediate issue. Sure, SCO could always sue Walmart, but hasn't it got a well-enough funded legal department on the other side already, in the shape of IBM? And if it did, it'd have to sue Lindows.com, putting it on the same side as Microsoft some more, and putting that irritating Mr Robertson grandstanding on the other side. ®

* On a personal note, the author wishes to state that until March of this year he was under the impression he'd pretty much recovered from the psychological damage inflicted by the Unix wars of the 1980s. The twinges, however, are starting to return, and should they get any worse he cannot rule out the possibility of entering into litigation with the company responsible for this. Should Sun and HP get dragged in as well, he will not be responsible for his nightmare flashback-induced actions.

Related stories:
SCO invokes RIAA in Linux jihad
Novell torpedoes SCO's Unix IP claim

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