Revenge Of The Nerds
December 16, 2003
NEW YORK - In the real world, Brenda Banks is a 54-year-old grandmother in Greer, S.C., a former warehouse supervisor who teaches rubber-stamping arts and crafts classes. But online she transforms into "br3n," a passionate user of Linux software who cruises Web sites posting smash-mouth messages about SCO Group. So far Banks has posted more than 1,500 messages on SCO's Yahoo! message board alone--including five on Thanksgiving.
"I feel very strongly about it," says Banks, who runs Linux on a six-year-old
Acer home computer. "They want to come and stab Linux. It's just not right."
Banks has joined thousands of others in a rag-tag Linux army dedicated to the destruction of SCO, the Lindon, Utah, company that last March sued IBM, claiming IBM put code from Unix, for which SCO holds some copyrights, into Linux, which is distributed for free. SCO also aims to collect license fees from companies that use Linux. IBM denies SCO's charges and has countersued. SCO also has been sued by Red Hat, a Linux distributor.
Linux crusaders insist SCO's claims have no merit and that SCO's evil managers will all end up in jail. They write to government agencies complaining about SCO, and some have even threatened to boycott the Royal Bank of Canada, one of SCO's investors. SCO's management has hired bodyguards after receiving death threats. Robert Enderle, an analyst who believes SCO's claims might be legitimate, says he and others also have been threatened, and says this "techno-insanity" verges on terrorism.
How do people get so emotionally involved with a piece of office equipment? "People
are seeing something going on that they really consider evil," says Bruce Perens,
a well-known Linux developer and independent consultant. "These people are just
showing moral outrage."
Linux was developed collaboratively by thousands of people around the world, all working for free. Now some of those folks are becoming amateur legal researchers and financial sleuths too. Banks says she has complained about SCO to the Securities and Exchange Commission. "There's after-hours trading going on," she says. Isn't this common? "Not that I'm aware of." Moreover, sometimes SCO shares drop during the day, then rise in after-hours trading. "That raises alarm bells," she says. "Maybe there are some preference trades going on." And what are preference trades? "I don't know," she says.
Much of the rhetoric is ordinary cheerleading: "we will WIN. sco is TOAST," Banks wrote recently on Yahoo!. But sometimes it gets ugly, as when Banks and others refer to Laura DiDio, a market research analyst who is unpopular among Linux fans, as "Dildio." Says Banks: "I don't associate 'Dildio' with anything bad, and I think someone's mind has to be in the gutter to associate it with that. No offense."
Says DiDio of her tormentors, who swamp her with hateful email and "report" her to her supervisors at Boston-based Yankee Group: "Welcome to the wonderful world of Linux. These people are living in an alternative reality."
One poster, "korbomite," on SCO's Yahoo! message board has posted more than 3,100 messages to the board and says he is "single-mindedly working to destroy this company," though he won't give his real name. Another frequent poster, who requested anonymity, says he has stored evidence against SCO on CDs and stashed them in safe-deposit boxes scattered around his state "just in case." He says he has shared his evidence with the SEC and other government agencies.
Some in this camp are so angry that in December, when SCO said hackers had attacked its Web site, Linux zealots suggested SCO was staging the attacks itself. "If there is an attack, where is the proof? Did SCO...attack itself?" wrote Pamela Jones, a White Plains, N.Y. paralegal who runs a Web site called Groklaw which is devoted entirely to covering the SCO lawsuits. Jones launched her site in May and has published more than 400 articles, most of them bashing SCO.
From Groklaw the rumor of SCO's fake hacker rocketed to Slashdot.org., another site popular among techies. Readers on both sites post responses to stories and share links to other Web sites, which is how rumors and paranoia keep spreading, unchecked. One recent theme is that some people posting rabid anti-SCO messages are actually SCO "operatives" posing as pro-Linux zealots in order to make the Linux camp look like mean-spirited fruitcakes. Ahem.
Who runs this noisy echo chamber? Slashdot.org is owned by VA Software, a Linux vendor. Groklaw is hosted, free, by a non-profit outfit called iBiblio, which runs on $250,000 worth of Linux-based computers donated by IBM and a $2 million donation from a foundation set up by Robert Young, founder of Red Hat. Of course none of these sponsors has anything to do with the content of these sites. Then again, they don't seem too upset about it, either.