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Bottled Linux?

Some pertinant historical notes on Unix

From the 16th annual SCO Forum, we get this interesting picture of CEO Darl McBride:

Taking on the 'Linux is free' myth, McBride offered to sell the audience a plastic cup of water. Then he held up a nicely labeled bottle of pure water, which easily sells for $12/gallon or more. This is how you'll make money, he said. You'll have the SCO brand once again, and our Linux will be powered by UnitedLinux, certified enterprise-ready by IBM and H-P.

While this provides, I think, a key insight into his thinking and motivation, it also provides something of an insight into his biggest blunders.

Linux is not Perrier, it is not Coke, it is not rainwater. It didn't fall out of the sky, and the thing which makes it magic is not the price, but the collaborative community behind it. I don't see any Coke volunteer teams helping out in Africa (or at home), or any Perrier conferences discussing how to make Perrier better.

When people buy bottled water, it's because they perceive it as being in some way better than tap water, even if only more convenient. When people buy Coke or Perrier instead of Open Cola [PDF] or Wattle Springs, it's because Coke and Perrier have spent a lot of time and an incredible amount of money on consistent advertising and quality control. When people buy Open Cola or Wattle Springs, it's because they've woken up to the advertising and looked behind the scenes a bit to see what's really going on.

What Darl McBride appears to be doing is trying to grab an Open Cola and turn it into a Coke-sized market. He couldn't do it with a magic wand or by putting a hat over his face, so he tried it by taking Coca Cola and Pepsi [requires Flash] to court.

That was stupid enough in the first place. Face and volume won't stop a tiger from slicing you up, and it won't stop IBM from turning The SCO Group into a greasy smear on the legal bitumen (and there are signs that IBM's going to do a well-deserved Genghis-Khan style "and all of your relatives" cleanup on The Canopy Group, too.

What makes it truly stupid, a whole new class of fancy corporate suicide, is the same thing that prevents Microsoft from making any permanent headway against Linux.

Imagine that you have a sword. It's a very fine, strong sword. It's been blooded: a number of your enemies are on their way to compost because of it. Flushed with victory, confident in your weapon and your armour, you turn and vigorously assault your next barrier: a nest of hornets... er...

I'm sure we can all see the problem, and sooner or later so will Darl. But as one man's tagline puts it: “the can is open, the worms are everywhere!” He can't undo what he's done.

That's part of the problem. The other part is that the posturing, innuendo and secret deals which are available in corporate warfare just don't work against the Linux crew. We are not impressed by suits, wealth or posturing. We don't understand the corporate lawsuit game, so we play it all wrong.

The best swordsman in the world doesn't fear the second best, because he knows how number 2 will react; he's only likely to get hurt fencing against a mediocre swordsman, and that's what's happening to Darl. Gambits which would be killers in the boardroom fall totally flat when exposed to the wit and wiles of a zillion curious techies. And just to make matters worse, there are some champion swordsmen more or less on our side too.

Perrier is making money by adding value to their own products. Darl tried to make money by taking away value from everyone else's products. Because it's corporate, there are fancier words for it than "stealing" and "standover". One of those fancy words is "barratry", and it's about to come back and bite Darl on the backside. Hard.

The only other factor that really stands out is that there might be someone in the background, nudging things along and promising soft falls when everything explodes. Given their history and singular lack of success against Linux using other techniques, the logical candidate would be Microsoft, but I'm well prepared to be surprised.

At the end of it all, the interviewer (Malcolm Dean of DesktopLinux) said:

I think Novell and Linux are the great unrecognized marriage in today's OS space.

Darl's answer was weirdly, ironically prophetic:

Right. I think you're on to something.

Logan High [Utah] students have adjusted well to Linux. “I have to turn off the light to let them know it’s time to go home,” says [Russell] Weeks, who runs the computer lab after school. “Sometimes their parents come in to get them.”

Last changed: 09-Sep-2008 18:29:34  Find out who links to this page. Verify for yourself that this page is pure, standard HTML, not Ruby.

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