Making Sense of SCO/IBM (Maybe)

Trying to make sense of the SCO vs. the World battle currently raging is complicated for many reasons. First of all, the company now known as SCO is the amalgamation of two companies, Caldera and SCO. The code they own comes from AT&T Bell Labs by way of both SCO and Novell. GNU/Linux is made up of software from two projects as well – the GNU Project of the Free Software Foundation and the Linux kernel created by Linus Torvalds. Now throw in the fact that UNIX is a trademark owned by the Open Group, and the whole BSD saga, and things are really messed up.

Here’s my attempt to simplify things by changing the names to protect the innocent.

There was a company called Smith Labs that created software to run on Red computers. SmithWare became very popular among researchers and academicians. One such research group, Jones Research, developed a lot of extensions to the software. They created a version called JonesWare that ran on a lot more than Red computers. They weren’t technically licensed by Smith Labs to create JonesWare, but everybody in those days shared code and it was good.

Smith Labs decided later on to take SmithWare commercial. They told everyone that had been sharing code to stop it without paying them. Everyone except Jones Research did. Jones Research was already sharing JonesWare under the Jones License, which allowed anyone to take their code and re-use it, as long as they acknowledged Jones Research as the original creator. At the same time, Smith Labs’ moves induced another group, EverymanSoft, to begin a project of their own. Frustrated at the “theft” of SmithWare from their community, they began to work on a replacement, which they called UnSmithWare. They also created a different license, called the Everyman License, which like the Jones License allowed anyone to use their code. They also added a condition that anyone who used their code had to share their changes with everyone else.

Two companies that did pay Smith Labs were Bob’s Computers, who wanted a version of SmithWare to run on their Blue computers, and the Andrews Group, who wanted a version to run on the up-and-coming Orange computers that many different companies were making. Bob’s Computers eventually adopted a lot of code from JonesWare as well as SmithWare, and they made a lot of advancements of their own, creating BobWare. The Andrews Group was pretty much content to make a version of SmithWare for Oranges, which they just called OrangeSmithWare.

As the years passed, Smith Labs eventually sold the rights to SmithWare to another company, Rogers Networks. Rogers Networks never really did much to develop SmithWare further; they released new versions periodically, and they kept reaping the license fees from Bob’s Computers, the Andrews Group, and others. One other thing that Rogers Networks inherited from Smith Labs was a lawsuit against Jones Research, alleging copyright, trade secret and trademark violation by Jones Research over creating JonesWare. Jones Research counter-sued, saying that most of SmithWare was in fact code taken from JonesWare and with the copyright information that was required by the Jones License removed. The two parties, Jones Research and Rogers Networks, settled the lawsuit, but most people think it was because Jones Research had a stronger case than Smith Labs and Rogers Networks. Shortly after that, Rogers Networks sold SmithWare to the Andrews Group.

In the meantime, UnSmithWare had cloned almost all of SmithWare’s functionality, but didn’t have the core code completed. Along came Popcorn James, a programmer who had created a program called the PopcornKernel. The PopcornKernel ran on Orange computers, and when used with UnSmithWare, it did everything the Andrews Group’s OrangeSmithWare did, plus a lot of the things that BobWare could do. UnSmithWare/PopcornKernel began attracting a lot of attention. One of the first companies to take notice of UnSmithWare/PopcornKernel was Leech Systems. They began distributing a version they called Leech PopcornKernel (ignoring the UnSmithWare contributions to the program). Leech Systems grew very profitable selling Leech PopcornKernel. Leech Systems contributed a lot of money and equipment to making the PopcornKernel do some amazing things, like running on a computer with 32 Orange processors at the same time.

In the meantime, Bob’s Computers and the Andrews Group had begun a project to create a hybrid of BobWare and OrangeSmithWare for the new Orange2 computer. Bob’s Computers later walked away from this effort after they decided that supporting Orange2 would hurt their own Blue computers. They also began to notice UnSmithWare/PopcornKernel. One of the first things Bob’s Computers did was help get PopcornKernel running on Blue computers. Then they began to help with other elements of UnSmithWare/PopcornKernel.

At the same time, Leech Systems bought the Andrews Group. They even released the source code for the orignal SmithWare under a Jones-style license. They also made it possible for OrangeSmithWare to run programs written for UnSmithWare/PopcornKernel, and vice-versa. After a while, however, Leech-Andrews’ sales of Leech PopcornKernel began to drop, and so did their sales of OrangeSmithWare. Eventually, they decided to sue Bob’s Computers for trade secret and copyright infringement for walking away from the Orange2 project and helping UnSmithWare/PopcornKernel.

When Leech-Andrews first launched their lawsuit, they claimed that Bob’s Computers had stolen secrets from SmithWare and put them into UnSmithWare/PopcornKernel. They claimed that SmithWare and OrangeSmithWare could do all sorts of amazing things that they couldn’t, but that JonesWare, BobWare, and a few other derivatives of SmithWare and JonesWare could. They also claimed that UnSmithWare/PopcornKernel couldn’t have done these things without Bob’s Computer, even though it had done many of those things long before OrangeSmithWare could, and definitely long before Bob’s Computer had even started helping with UnSmithWare/PopcornKernel.

Over time, Leech-Andrews’ lies got more and more fantastic. The stopped selling Leech PopcornKernel, claiming that it had actual code from SmithWare and OrangeSmithWare. They wouldn’t tell anyone what the code was, or whether it was in UnSmithWare, the PopcornKernel, or both. They sent letters to a lot of companies, telling them that they could be sued for using UnSmithWare/PopcornKernel. The only problem, though, was the Everyman License. Since Leech-Andrews had kept selling Leech PopcornKernel even after they bought the Andrews Group, it meant that they had implicitly placed any code from the Andrews Group under the Everyman License. So now Leech-Andrews is claiming that those portions of the Everyman License don’t apply to them, since they were unaware that Andrews Group-owned code was in UnSmithWare/PopcornKernel, and that they weren’t the ones who put it there, anyway.

Okay, so I was wrong – that’s not any clearer even without the UNIX crosstalk. Anyway, here’s the “decoder ring” so you can figure out who is who:


  • Smith Labs – AT&T Bell Labs
  • Jones ResearchUniv. of California Berkeley and Berkeley Systems Design (defunct)
  • EverymanSoft – The Free Software Foundation
  • Bob’s ComputersIBM
  • The Andrews Group – The original SCO Group (defunct)
  • Rogers NetworksNovell UNIX Systems Group
  • Popcorn James – Linus Torvalds
  • Leech Systems – Caldera Systems International (defunct)
  • Leech-Andrews – The new SCO, formed by Caldera’s acquisition of the old SCO


  • SmithWare – the original Bell Labs UNIX, evolved into System V UNIX, later to become UnixWare
  • JonesWare – BSD UNIX. The version Novell/AT&T sued over was 4.4BSD.
  • UnSmithWare – the GNU OS
  • BobWare – IBM’s AIX
  • OrangeSmithWare – XENIX/SCO UNIX/OpenServer
  • PopcornKernel – the Linux kernel
  • Leech PopcornKernel – Caldera OpenLinux
  • The Orange2 SmithWare project – project Monterrey


  • Red – the PDP-11
  • Blue – IBM’s lines of processors
  • Orange – the Intel x86 line of processors
  • Orange2 – the Intel Itanium processor