Open-Source Leader Calls for Truce After Hackers Hit SCO Site

The battle over ownership of open-source Linux source code took a nasty turn as the SCO Group, which claims to own a key part of the code and has aggressively pursued compensation for it, found itself the target of a hacker attack. The distributed denial-of-service exploit apparently took down the Lindon, Utah-based company’s Web site for most of the weekend and lingered into the work week. The company’s site was out of service sporadically Monday and Tuesday.

The company was not immediately available to comment on the financial impact of the attack, although it said in published reports that it is working with the FBI to investigate the incident’s source. SCO sells software licenses directly through its site.

Bad Karma

Regardless of impact, the attack underscored the bitterness of the feud between SCO and the open-source community. Although SCO’s US$3 billion suit against IBM probably will not make it into a courtroom for well over a year, and countersuits filed by Red Hat and others likely will take just as long to wend their way through the legal system, SCO has stepped up efforts to sell licenses to the disputed Linux code.

The company’s decision last week to reveal some but not all of the code it claims to own seems to have fanned the flames of critics’ ire.

Long Road Ahead

In a letter to open-source developers, Open Source Initiative president Eric Raymond said it appeared an “experienced Internet engineer” was behind the attack, which he called “dangerous to our goals.”

“I realize the provocation was extreme,” Raymond wrote. “Since March SCO has threatened, grossly insulted, and attacked our community and everything we’ve worked for. I’m certainly not without sympathy for the person who did this.”

However, he added, “When we use criminal means to fight them, no matter what the provocation is, we bring ourselves down to the level of the thieves and liars now running SCO. That is unethical, and bad tactics to boot.”

Raymond urged open-source supporters to keep an eye on the big picture of the looming legal battle and the larger war for public opinion. “Public opinion matters, it even influences judges,” he said.

To Buy or Not To Buy?

The attack came approximately three weeks after SCO announced the pricing scheme for its Linux licenses, saying it will offer a limited-time price of US$699 and then will raise the price to $1,399 per computer in mid-October.

While some companies have stepped forward to obtain licenses, others have dug in their heels. Industry analyst Stacey Quandt told the E-Commerce Times that many enterprises are watching spending so closely that even a lower-priced license could give them pause.

“The debate is whether they should license something that SCO has yet to prove they own,” Quandt said. “For a lot of companies, that’s just not money well spent at this point, though there is some risk involved.”

Also on Monday, Linux developer MontaVista Software publicly advised its customers not to buy licenses from SCO, saying the company’s claims to the code have “no real merit.” Although MontaVista is not a household name even in software circles, analysts said the move is significant because it marks the first time a company has publicly come out against licensing SCO’s technology.

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