By Jonathan Krim Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 10, 2004; Page E01
LINDON, Utah -- For a small but fervent cadre of computer enthusiasts, the most popular Internet parlor activity over the past year hasn't involved animated dungeons, dragons or warlords.
Instead, it is real-life sleuthing to piece together a business puzzle: How can a tiny, struggling software company based here at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains afford to pursue a legal donnybrook with some of the biggest names in corporate America?
SCO Group Inc. is suing companies such as International Business Machines Corp., Novell Inc., DaimlerChrysler and AutoZone Inc. -- and threatening government agencies and more than 1,500 other firms -- over their use of software called Linux.
Many big companies and organizations have embraced Linux in recent years because of its chief virtue: It's free. Developed and maintained by a loose confederation of engineers, Linux is available to anyone and can be modified by users, challenging the traditional model of software controlled and licensed to others by a single entity such as Microsoft Corp.
SCO claims that pieces of code from another operating system that it owns found its way into Linux, and the company is demanding a licensing fee of $700 for every computer server running the software.
In the process, SCO has become one of the most hated companies in the country, and it has sparked a vitriolic war over the future of software. Linux advocates regard SCO as part of a broader campaign to snuff out the software, known by its smiling penguin logo.
"There are some vested interests, Microsoft among them, to whom the whole concept of Internet collaboration is a threat," said Eric S. Raymond, a technology book author who was one of the first to take up the fight against SCO more than a year ago.
Working largely on their own time, Linux devotees apply their collaborative model for creating software, known as open source, to attack SCO and its case. Dozens of online detectives comb corporate documents, analyze legal filings and publish everything they can find about the company, its finances, management and connections to Microsoft.
One Web site focused exclusively on the case, known as Groklaw, was started by a paralegal named Pamela Jones and now has roughly 5,000 contributors. Though it is ardently pro-Linux, the site has grown into such an exhaustive archive of software history and law that attorneys on both sides use it as a resource.
"Our international membership means SCO can't do anything anywhere on the planet without someone seeing it and telling on them," Jones said in an e-mail interview.
The strongest evidence pointing to possible Microsoft encouragement in the SCO campaign is this: Early last year, Microsoft agreed it would pay SCO an eyebrow-raising sum, as much as $16 million, to license its technology, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Later, Microsoft executives brought SCO to the attention of a venture fund, BayStar Capital, which ended up putting together investments in SCO totaling $50 million.
Microsoft spokesman Mark Martin said the company's sole involvement with SCO was the license. He said it was needed because Windows makes use of some code from software known as Unix, a version of which is owned by SCO. Sun Microsystems also purchased a license from SCO.