Interview with Chris Sontag in Byte, 16 June 2003
by Greg Lehey
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I wrote this document in June 2003 shortly after the interview was published. Ten years later I revisited it and updated the format. Alas, most of the references have suffered from web-rot. If you find a new link, please let me know.

The immediately following link might be almost identical with this page, which is written by the same person and explicitly references it. It also specifically allows free copying, so in case it, too, goes away, it's also here on this site.

A Byte interview with Chris Sontag, SCO's Senior Vice President, suggests even more litigation. It's full of mistakes, which of course could have been done by the reporter, but beyond that it seems to indicate a complete lack of understanding.

In the beginning was AT&T Bell Labs, staffed by a benevolent team of PhDs and research scientists. AT&T produced this really neat operating system—System V—which computer manufacturers wanted to license and use.

Well, no, Bell Labs developed UNIX, not System V; that came later. Somebody in this interview seems to think they're synonymous, but maybe they're just trying to be misleading.

Everybody was happy to sign tough contracts with these benevolent scientists—licenses which deeded all derivative works back to AT&T, licenses that covered all "methods" and "concepts" of operating systems.

This is news to me. It hasn't even shown up in this nonsensical saga before. I've since heard, but not seen proof, that there was some such clause in the older licenses, but the return was not an exclusive ownership that the term deeded would suggest.

Specifically, Sontag believes the "SCO technologies" which were misappropriated into AIX, IRIX, and the derivative UNIX-alikes (including Linux) are:

JFS (Journalling File System).

This is unbelievable. Did Sontag really say that? To this day SCO doesn't have code of that name. JFS was developed by IBM. To judge by the header files, it appears to base heavily on the Berkeley (BSD) Fast File System.

Ian Lance Taylor talks about this in his report on his visit with Sontag:

I asked specifically about JFS, because I know that was originally developed for OS/2. SCO claims that JFS was originally developed for AIX, then ported to OS/2, then ported back to AIX; the port back to AIX was the basis for the Linux port. Chris Sontag said this was straight from the JFS web page. I just checked, and the JFS web page does not entirely agree. There IBM says that while JFS was first developed for AIX, the development for OS/2 was a new effort; the Linux port was based on the OS/2 work, not the port back to AIX. Using SCO's expansive definition of derivative work, arguably the development on OS/2 was based on the original AIX development, as some of the same people may have worked on it and used their experience with the AIX code.

I think Ian is wrong here. The JFS web page is a little ambiguous, but I'm pretty sure that JFS was first developed for AIX. Considering the initial purposes of the two operating systems, this makes more sense. Also, I don't believe that there would be the strong Berkeley-like appearance of the JFS 1 header files if they had been derived from OS/2. The OS/2 version of JFS (JFS 2) also looks very different from JFS 1, both in structure and in style. In addition, JFS 1 is closely coupled to the AIX memory manager structure, which would probably not have happened had it been ported from elsewhere.

None of this is any justification for SCO. I'm pretty sure that they have nothing to do with JFS.

NUMA (Non Uniform Memory Access), a SGI/Stanford collaboration.

They don't even claim to have anything to do with this one. That's a good thing, too: NUMA is very much a hardware issue. SCO doesn't do hardware.

RCU (Read-copy-update).

This is an algorithm. There's nothing in here which required, or could even benefit, access to the source code of an implementation in a differently structured system.

June 2013: I must have known at the time that RCU was written by my ex-colleague Paul McKinney. I probably omitted mentioning it because of the sensitivity of the matter within IBM.

SMP (Symmetrical Multi-Processing).

SMP predates UNIX. SCO was a latecomer in implementing SMP, and as far as I can tell none of its license holders use the SCO version: they all have their own implementations, all of which are superior to the SCO implementation. The link shows Linux's implementation, which was initially very much a primitive "Giant Kernel Lock" implementation that has been around for decades, Later versions of the Linux SMP implementation differ strongly from any UNIX implementation.

This list is interesting for a number of reasons: why particularly these technologies? RCU is just one of many synchronization techniques, and it's not overly important. JFS is generally considered an "also ran" in the Linux world; there are better file systems. NUMA and SMP are hardware issues. It's also interesting to note the sequence of this list. NUMA is a later development than SMP.

"But what about BSD?" I asked. Sontag responded that there "could be issues with the [BSD] settlement agreement," adding that Berkeley may not have lived up to all of its commitments under the settlement.

I wonder who he means by "Berkeley". The BSD settlement was with BSDI, now part of Wind River Systems and the NetBSD and the FreeBSD projects, the latter represented by Chris Demetriou and Jordan Hubbard respectively.

"So you want royalties from FreeBSD as well?" I asked. Sontag responded that "there may or may not be issues. We believe that UNIX System V provided the basic building blocks for all subsequent computer operating systems, and that they all tend to be derived from UNIX System V (and therefore are claimed as SCO's intellectual property)."

Sontag can believe what he wants. If he said that, he's just plain wrong. UNIX System V is a dead end. BSD never derived anything from it; System V derived from BSD. Even SCO's own incomplete and misleading family tree doesn't claim that.

"But I thought that Microsoft had signed a license agreement?" "No," Sontag said. Microsoft merely licensed an "applications interface layer."

This makes more sense. I had my doubts from the beginning that Microsoft would need to license UNIX.

So Why is Linux Being Targeted First?

SCO is targeting Linux first primarily because the Linux source code is open. SCO's lawyers have been poring over the Linux code for much of the past year, looking for fragments and routines which are substantially identical to code from the various releases of UNIX. SCO's "experts" have also found sections of code which SCO believes have been obfuscated—where the order of code execution has been rearranged in a direct attempt to hide its SCO pedigree.

How can they use the word "expert" and "lawyer" in the same context? That makes no sense. They obviously mean "computer expert", and that's not the same thing as a lawyer.

But SCO has been even more thorough. After sifting through e-mails from the Linux developers' mailing list, Sontag says SCO has examples of programmers from AT&T licensees offering to write UNIX code into Linux, and can identify where those UNIX fragments turned up in the codebase.

That would be interesting.

I was shown a little of the copied code. Admittedly, I can't tell you what I saw, but I did form the opinion that it was not in the kernel proper. In all probability, the code is more important to Silicon Graphics' Altix servers than to average x86 Linux users.

If it's not in the kernel, it's not in Linux. And if they don't tell him where it comes from, how can he even believe their claims about its origins? My opinion of SCO has deteriorated to the point where I wouldn't be surprised if they planted false evidence.

I listened to how IBM has bypassed U.S. export controls with Linux. How "Syria and Libya and North Korea" are all building supercomputers with Linux and inexpensive Intel hardware, in violation of U.S. export control laws. These laws would normally restrict export of technologies such as JFS, NUMA, RCU, and SMP—and, (I was waiting for this) "encryption technologies." "We know that is occurring in Syria," I heard, even though my mind was fogging over at this point.

This is sheer, unmitigated nonsense. IBM is interested in selling hardware. Cheap Intel boxes are usually no-name Taiwanese products which are in competition with IBM. Why should they want to promote them anywhere, let alone in countries where it could get them into trouble? And any export restrictions relate to export out of the USA. That doesn't make any difference: everything in the list above is available outside the USA, and a lot of the software in question was developed outside the USA.

As mentioned already, NUMA and SMP are hardware technologies, so they're not specific to Linux.

"So are you saying that the U.S. government might file a "Friend of the Court Brief" to support your case against IBM?" I blurted out. "Don't be surprised" was Sontag's answer.

Nothing would surprise me any more.

GPL

"GPL has the same derivative rights concept [as UNIX]," according to Sontag: "Once contributed, code cannot be removed."

Nonsense. That would mean you could never fix a bug or replace an implementation.


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