Ransom Love, Co-founder of Caldera and SCO, Speaks of Unix, GPL and the Lawsuit

By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

September 25, 2003

In 1994, Caldera Inc. was formed by Bryan Sparks and Ransom Love with the financial backing of Novell Inc. founder Ray Noorda. The company was one of the first backers of commercial Linux. Since that time, Caldera's successor company, The SCO Group Inc., has gained notoriety for its legal actions against Linux vendors and end users over what it says is proprietary Unix code. When he left Caldera in mid-2001, industry wags said Love would take the helm of the UnitedLinux consortium; but instead, he left the Linux business. Today, Love is writing a book about the early days of Linux commercialization and the open-source way of approaching problems.

Steven Vaughan-Nichols, editor of eWEEK.com's Linux & Open Source Center, spoke to Love in an exclusive interview. Love, who was Caldera CEO during its acquisition of SCO and the contested Unix source code, expressed displeasure over the current developments from his former company.

eWEEK.com: Let's cut to the chase: What did you intend to do with the Unix source code?

Love: Clearly, when we acquired SCO and Unix [ http://www.practical-tech.com/business/b08022000.htm ], our intention was to see how Unix could expand and extend Linux. In a lot of technologies, Linux was going in slightly different ways, but we thought Unix was the natural companion to it.

We took the Linux code that was available and learned to cleanly match it with the Unix APIs. The idea was to adopt Linux APIs and mechanisms to function on top of a scalable Unix code designed for SMP [symmetric multiprocessing]. At the time, Linux was moving to clustering to make Linux more scalable. We wanted to combine Unix's improved symmetric multiprocessing with Linux so that it would have both excellent clustering and SMP.

Indeed, at first we wanted to open-source all of Unix's code, but we quickly found that even though we owned it, it was, and still is, full of other companies' copyrights.

The challenge was that there were a lot of business entities that didn't want this to happen. Intel [Corp.] was the biggest opposition.

eWEEK.com: Intel? Why?

Love: I don't know their real reason, but my sense was that they were using Linux against Unix and Sun [Microsystems Inc.]. They wanted to destroy the Unix base on Intel in favor of Linux so Sun wouldn't have a low-end Unix path.

And, of course, there was their love-hate relationship with Microsoft. At the same time, they didn't want to displace Microsoft with a Linux that had the best of both operating systems.

Linux and Unix are highly compatible and should be supportive of each other, but they were being pitted against each other because no one wants to threaten Microsoft. In Intel's case, Windows was also making them too much money.

We didn't want to spend years clearing out the old copyright issues in the face of corporate opposition. So, instead we worked on Linux Kernel Personalities [ http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1895,1653684,00.asp ] to bring Linux application compatibility to SCO Unix (formerly UnixWare) and OpenServer. The idea was to enable developers to write for both Unix and Linux with a common Application Programming Interface (API) and common Application Binary Interface (ABI). That way developers didn't have to work so hard, and Unix users, the client base we inherited from SCO, could run Linux applications.

We were no longer thinking about mixing code; we were trying to create a common development environment. We were trying to keep the Unix and Linux kernels separate, while tying them to common APIs and ABIs.

eWEEK.com: When you bought SCO, you had other problems beyond the concern about mixing Unix and Linux, right?

Love: Thats right. There were many reasons we bought SCO: its then-strong reseller community; its incredible installed base of replicated business where Linux could play well; its engineering talent; its global support infrastructure; and what we then thought of as the future of our product base—Project Monterey.

Love: We were really excited about Monterey as the next product step for Caldera/SCO. With it, we would move a combined Unix and Linux to a 64-bit platform. We were counting on it, and senior IBM executives had assured us that they wanted Monterey.

Then, IBM decided to name it AIX 5L (on August 22, 2000, 20 days after Caldera had bought SCO), and they wouldnt release [Monterey] on Intel. That became a real problem for us. SCO had depended entirely on Monterey on IA-64 for the future of our Unix and Linux product lines. IBM did offer some payment for our development troubles, but it was insufficient.

eWEEK.com: That was the real start of trouble between the two companies, then?

Love: Yes.

eWEEK.com: What do you think about SCOs current management claims that IBM took Unix source code and put it into Linux?

Love: I dont get into that level of expertise, so thats an area I cant comment on. Of course, both SCO/Caldera and IBM contributed to the Linux kernel. Certainly, IBM contributed SMP capability. We didnt do much with SMP. Logically, I seriously doubt that IBM would actually list the Unix code into Linux. Were they heavily influenced by Unix? Of course, all operating system engineers are.

eWEEK.com: SCOs current management is now going after the GPL. What do think of this move?

Love: We looked at the GPL for many years. We thought it had problems, For me, the GPL was not the open source license I would have chosen for commercial opportunities, but if I were trying to establish an open standard, Id use GPL.

Fundamentally, the only business model that works with GPL is a subscription service, one like Caldera had and where Red Hat has with its enterprise Linux distributions. The GPL might be questionable in court, but for what Richard Stallman intended, its not flawed at all.

But, that said, I wouldnt want to test the GPL in court, particularly given Calderas history of voluntary compliance with it.

If you start down a path, and you get high-powered attorneys and [then] you begin to believe things you might not have at the beginning.

eWEEK.com: What do you think of SCO's recent threats to expand its legal actions?

Love: I'm not privy to the information they have. But, it's not the path I, or our group, would have gone down. I think Caldera investors who wanted a quick return pressured the management. They seem to think that short-term, possible gains are more important than long term ones, which is unfortunate.

I don't believe that the suit is good for the company or Linux. I do believe IBM has not played clean with SCO. Still, with UnitedLinux they were a tremendous help. But, on the other hand, unlike other Linux companies, Caldera/SCO didn't get IBM investments, and of course, there's always Monterey.

Now, the suit has taken on a life of its own, and there's a lot of posturing for the suit going on that people now believe in. That said, there are many business relationship issues that the open-source community isn't aware of between SCO and IBM. But now it's become an ongoing feud between SCO and the open-source community.

I don't know if there's really an intellectual-property case or not. It's possible SCO discovered something that I don't have the information on. I do think, though, that it's very unfortunate that what should have been a contract dispute has become an industrywide fight.

eWEEK.com: Why is this is so? Certainly, SCO has been fanning the flames.

Love: Perhaps by proposing to go after Linux end users, they want to put additional pressure to bring matters to a head. But, the way it's escalating, I'm not sure they're trying to bring it to a conclusion. SCO may actually believe that they'll drive a business with Unix licensing alone.

eWEEK.com: How do you feel about this?

Love: My belief is that Unix and Linux should co-exist and should look and feel the same to application developers. Fundamentally, I would not have pursued SCO's path.

You see, the challenge is building business. Litigation, no matter what side you're on, tears down businesses. Only the attorneys win. Companies should focus their energies on building their businesses, not on lawsuits. I don't see any positive outcomes.

It's like a fire. Right now in Utah, they started a controlled burn, and it's turned into the worse fire of the season. They had been afraid of a lightning strike and then they lit the match.

This is awkward to me, I don't know what's going on inside SCO today, and I don't want to throw stones on either side.

I, however, no longer have any investments in SCO. When news of the IBM lawsuit broke, I sold the last of my stock. I no longer have any relationship with the company.

eWEEK.com: Do you think, even after the Monterey letdown, that SCO could have been successful on the path you would have taken?

Love: It could have been successful. The path we were taking was the only one we could. We didn't have the resources to move Linux to IA-64 on our own, and we couldn't push our SCO Unix customers to Linux.

Had the economy spun around ... Much of our business was with retail sites, and as their businesses got better, ours would have too.

Copyright 2003