The new owner of Bell Labs original Unix is still wrestling with how to make the source code to its true ancestor publicly available, but has suggested that Sun Microsystems' Java license could provide an attractive model.
Caldera CEO Ransom Love told The Register that once the acquisition of rights to the Santa Cruz Operation's UnixWare was approved, then the source code would be made available, only "it's a question of when, and how".
We talked to both SCO CEO Doug Michels and Caldera's Love at length last week, and the foggy picture created by some contradictory statements at the time of the merger announcement does seem to have lifted.
We get the strong impression that Love regards the politics of releasing source code as something of a tedious distraction. And many of the customers that he's acquired - after scooping up the bulk of the closed-software Unix-on-Intel market by buying SCO's UnixWare and services divisions - would probably agree.
But that said, it isn't an academic exercise any more. Even with Microsoft's deep warchests, Redmond has had troubling keeping up with the pace and diversity of free software development, and so making source code freely available has become if not a guarantor, then at least a respectable bet that the software will be maintained and extended in the future.
So Caldera's licensing looks to fall into three categories. Firstly, there's stuff it doesn't own and can't release: Compaq's NonStop Clusters (originally devised by Tandem), and Veritas' file system for example. That's if they don't buy both Compaq and Veritas of course, which even with handsome Ransom's powers of persuasion, you'd have to rate as unlikely.
Secondly, there's stuff that Caldera sees an advantage in releasing first, because as Love told us, "you've got to preserve resellers' value." He's just acquired a lot of resellers. Love said that a time release model - by which the source code is after the binaries - had been successful for Caldera in the past. "COs and Lizard worked extremely well," he said.
Finally there's the release of UnixWare itself, which is something of a special case, being the direct ancestor of AT&T's original Unix code. The cross-pollination between AT&T's Unix and BSD derivatives is famously complicated - if you want to know more, we recommend Ronda Hauben's potted history here or the much-mirrored family tree here - but in software circles, it'll rank alongside Carter's opening of Tutenkhamen's tomb.
Latter day software archaeologists will be able to see how closely say, Linux maps to the original source's data structures. BSD folk will be able to say: "I told you so" (or not), and we'll be able to marvel at how the modern rewrite looks from the Thompson and Ritchie original. So let's hope this revelation doesn't come with the associated Tutankhamen curses.
Love emphatically promised to drop the UnixWare source license fee, but agreed with our suggestion that a "controlled" license along the lines of JCP would be both workable and appropriate. UnixWare is currently licensed (with various degrees of enthusiasm) by Unisys, IBM, ECM's DG division (still trading as Data General), and NCR.
For one of the smaller Linux distros, the new Scaldera makes for intriguing viewing. Wall Street values Caldera OldCo at $224m - and last quarter it received income of just over $1m, which is classic bubble economy financials. But it's just bought into some old money, picking up a large and loyal global customer base. Having mingled with a fair representation of these good folk last week, the consensus seemed to be that the although new owners who might be strange and new, still knew smarter than to alienate SCO's traditional SME customers.
But having noted Love's quite different spins to the financial and free software communities before, we wondered if the new Scaldera could please these different all the time?
"You can't" he said simply. ®
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