McNealy: “Don’t touch” Linux without legal guarantees

31 July 2003 Scott McNealy, the chairman, president and CEO of systems vendor Sun Microsystems, has dramatically warned companies of the legal dangers of using open source software such as the Linux operating system.

Following on from SCO Group’s threats to sue Linux users over its intellectual property claims, McNealy told an audience of UK businesses that they should steer clear of open source software unless their suppliers can offer insurance against such legal action.

“Don’t touch open source software unless you have a team of intellectual property lawyers prepared to scour every single piece [of the open source code]. We offer indemnification, but many suppliers do not. A lot of companies are going to get very disappointed as we move forward. It will become a very challenging intellectual property issue,” he told Sun’s Technology Forum in St Andrews, Scotland, this week.

The warning came just a week after SCO began demanding licence fees from 1,500 of the world’s biggest users of Linux. SCO, which is also suing IBM for allegedly stealing its secrets, claims that Linux contains code copied line by line from its System V version of Unix, the basis of its UnixWare operating system product.

IBM denies any wrongdoing, and many analysts have questioned the merit of SCO’s case against it.

But companies nevertheless are being urged to delay Linux projects until the legal impasse is broken. “Don’t ignore the problem by hoping IBM will win or settle its lawsuit, which could take a year or more. An IBM win would not prevent SCO from pursuing individual claims, which, if successful, could cost far more in penalties than buying a SCO licence would,” advises George Weiss, a Gartner analyst.

Sun executives say their customers are growing increasingly alarmed by the chain of events. “I never got questions about indemnification before and now I am getting questions all the time,” said John Loiacono, vice president of Sun’s operating platforms group.

The warnings by Sun, which sells the proprietary Solaris version of Unix, will be seen by critics as fresh evidence of its seemingly lukewarm support for Linux. Although McNealy famously gave a speech to a Sun event last year wearing a penguin suit in honour of the Linux mascot, Tux the penguin, Sun has only begun selling Linux systems relatively recently and it will not license desktop Linux programs until later in 2003.

However, the Sun boss insisted he is firmly committed to Linux. “We are a huge proponent of open source software,” he said, “despite all the hate mail I get from the open source movement.”

Discussion and comment on McNealy’s claims at

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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