Last weekend, SCO Group, which now owns much of the intellectual property for the UNIX OS, sued IBM for more than $1 billion, charging the company with misappropriating SCO's technologies and building them into Linux. The suit, which has far-reaching ramifications for the open-source software (OSS) solution, charges IBM with "misappropriation of trade secrets, unfair competition, breach of contract, and tortious interference" with SCO's business. SCO says it will revoke IBM's UNIX license to ship IBM AIX if the company doesn't stop its anticompetitive practices within 100 days.

"SCO is in the enviable position of owning the UNIX operating system," said Darl McBride, SCO's president and CEO. "It is clear from our standpoint that we have an extremely compelling case against IBM. SCO has more than 30,000 contracts with UNIX licensees and upholding these contracts is as important today as the day they were signed." The SCO charges against IBM are vast. "IBM is affirmatively taking steps to destroy all value of UNIX by improperly extracting and using the confidential and proprietary information it acquired from UNIX and dumping that information into the open-source community," the suit reads. "IBM's tortious conduct was also intentionally and maliciously designed to destroy plaintiff's business livelihood and all opportunities of plaintiff to derive value from the UNIX software code in the marketplace."

The legal move is interesting. In recent years, Linux has become the darling of the UNIX crowd, with numerous high-profile companies considering the move to relatively low-cost Linux boxes over more expensive proprietary UNIX solutions. Companies that back UNIX, such as Hewlett-Packard (HP), IBM, and Sun Microsystems, have seen their UNIX holdings diminish dramatically as Linux became more popular. What differentiates IBM from other UNIX licensees, however, is that IBM decided to turn most of its engineering and support strength away from UNIX and toward Linux. That move touched off the SCO suit, but you have to wonder whether the move from UNIX to Linux wasn't simply an inevitable, commonsense market decision.

IBM says it's unfazed by SCO's lawsuit. "We've reviewed our contracts, and our UNIX license is irrevocable and perpetual," said Mike Fay, vice president of communications for IBM's systems group, noting that IBM will continue shipping AIX.