SCO may not know origin of code, says Australian UNIX historian

By Sam Varghese
The Age

September 9, 2003

More doubts have been cast on the heritage of System V Unix code, which the SCO Group claims as its own, by an Australian who runs the Unix Heritage Society [ ].

Dr Warren Toomey, now a computer science lecturer at Bond University, said today: "I'd like to point out that SCO (the present SCO Group) probably doesn't have an idea where they got much of their code. The fact that I had to send SCO (the Santa Cruz Organisation or the old SCO) everything up to and including Sys III says an awful lot."

He said that even though SCO owned the copyright on Sys III, a few years ago it did not have a copy of the source code. "I was dealing with one of their people at the time, trying to get some code released under a reasonable licence. I sent them the code as a gesture because I knew they did not have a copy," he said with a chuckle.

Dr Toomey's statements come a few days after Greg Rose, an Australian Unix hacker from the 1970s, raised the possibility [ ] that there may be code contributed by people, including himself, which has made its way into System V Unix and is thus being used by companies like the SCO Group.

Dr Toomey said this was one reason why the code samples which the SCO Group had shown at its annual forum [ ] had turned out to be widely published code.

SCO was unaware of the origins of much of the code and this "explains how they could wheel out the old malloc() code and the BPF (Berkeley Packet Filter) code, not realising that both were now under BSD licences - and in fact they hadn't even written the BPF code," Dr Toomey said.

He said that there was lots of code which had been developed at the University of New South Wales in the 70s which went to AT&T and was incorporated into UNIX without any copyright notices.

"At that time the development that was going on was similar to open source - the only difference was that the developers all had to have copies of the code licensed from AT&T," he said.

Dr Toomey, who served 12 years with the Australian Defence Force Academy, an offshoot of the University of New South Wales, before joining Bond University, said he had source code for Unices from the 3rd version of UNIX which came out in 1974 to the present day. "I don't have Sys V code but there are people with licences for that code who are members of the Unix Heritage Society. We can compare code samples any time," he said.

He agreed that the codebase of Sys V was a terribly tangled mess. "It is very difficult to trace origins now. There is an awful lot of non-AT&T and non-SCO code in Sys V. There is a lot of BSD code there," he said.

In March, the SCO Group filed a billion-dollar lawsuit [ ] against IBM, for "misappropriation of trade secrets, tortious interference, unfair competition and breach of contract."

SCO also claimed that Linux was an unauthorised derivative of Unix and warned commercial Linux users [ ] that they could be legally liable for violation of intellectual copyright. SCO later expanded its claims against IBM to US$3 billion in June when it said it was withdrawing [ ] IBM's licence for its own Unix, AIX.

IBM has counter-sued SCO [ ] while Red Hat Linux has sued SCO [ ] to stop it from making "unsubstantiated and untrue public statements attacking Red Hat Linux and the integrity of the Open Source software development process."

Copyright 2003