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SCO: MIT Experts No Longer At MIT

By Keith J. Winstein

NEWS EDITOR

The SCO Group of Utah has had to backtrack after saying that MIT mathematicians verified its claims that Linux, the center of the popular and freely-available GNU/Linux operating system, is an illegal knock-off.

The company, which in 2000 bought the copyright to the Unix operating system, has sued IBM for $3 billion, saying IBM has been transferring files from Unix -- whose code is confidential, and to which IBM has access only under a license from SCO -- to Linux. Both Unix and GNU/Linux are used extensively in MIT’s Athena system.

Central to SCO’s case are what the company says are more than 1,500 examples of confidential files belonging to SCO that have been contributed illegally to Linux.

SCO said MIT experts verified

The company has so far declined to disclose most of these examples publicly. But it has said that three teams of experts have confirmed its assertions -- including one team of mathematicians from MIT.

“They said they hired three separate independent teams of experts to analyze their code, including one from MIT, and that the findings appear to corroborate the fact that the code had been taken from Unix and put into Linux,” said Laura DiDio, a senior analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston.

“It was kind of weird, because they told me they had hired a team at MIT,” said Robert McMillan, a correspondent for the IDG News Service. “And then they kind of backpedaled.”

SCO Senior Vice President “Chris Sontag told me that [they] had a group of mathemeticians ‘who were at MIT’ working on this,” McMillan wrote in an e-mail after checking his notes. “In subsequent interviews SCO said that these guys had been at MIT and were no longer there.”

Paul Hatch, a SCO spokesman, wrote in a statement to The Tech, “To clarify, the individuals reviewing the code had been involved with MIT labs in the past, but are not currently at MIT. Unfortunately, due to contractual obligations, we cannot specifically name the individuals.”

Later, SCO’s director of corporate communications, Blake Stowell, confirmed that “at least one of the groups was a link to MIT” but did not respond to a request to make the experts available for interview.

Informal inquiries with the mathematics department did not find anyone who said they knew of a colleague working to verify SCO’s assertions.

Initial SCO examples shot down

In a slide show last Monday, SCO showed six examples of Linux files it says were illegally copied from its confidential Unix code.

Linux partisans who obtained a copy of the slide show were quick to trace the examples back to their origins, which appear preliminarily in each case not to belong to SCO.

The company disputes this analysis. “We’re the owners of the Unix (AT&T) System V code, and so we would know what it would look like,” the company told McMillan and the IDG News Service. “Until it comes to court, it’s going to be our word against theirs.”