Over the past two years, the influential web site Groklaw has become a focal point for open source advocates discussing The SCO Group’s litigation against Linux companies. The community of knowledgeable experts has helped with clarifying contract technicalities, dug through news archives, and filed on-the-spot reports from the Utah the courtroom, much to SCO’s discomfort.
But over the past month the site’s maintainer Pamela Jones has run a series of articles which could offer SCO some elusive ammunition to discredit the site. [We now understand this series, after some input from your reporter, has been amended.]
Given the internet’s well documented “echo chamber” tendencies, what we’ll call the Monterey Mystery is now cementing into an orthodoxy. From a Google search for “Project Monterey” the top six results are either the Groklaw articles, or articles about them.
At least five articles published this month suggest that Project Monterey, the joint Unix that was being co-developed by IBM, the Santa Cruz Operation and Sequent beginning in 1998 was only a “stop-gap” measure. The participants, she asserts, had from the start bet that Linux would supplant their proprietary Unix offerings. And more damningly, she claims that SCO knew this at the time, and has declined to reveal this secret strategy.
“Project Monterey was the stopgap, in a way, I gather. It worked for the enterprise right away, and it was a path to smoothly move to Linux as it matured,” wrote Jones.
There is a serious problem with this hypothesis: it isn’t true.
(Your reporter bases this conclusion on first hand experience with representatives from IBM, SCO, Compaq and Sequent which included attending four of the week-long SCO Forum events between 1998 and 2001 – reports from which have been cited in the litigation, and widely quoted at Groklaw itself).
Let’s examine the Groklaw conjectures, their merit, and see how much damage they could do to the open source defense against SCO, which until now has been both exhaustive and exacting. But first, some history.
Unix before Linux
In October 1998, when IBM plumped for a joint development agreement with the Santa Cruz Operation and Sequent, it was a bold move. The past thirteen years at Big Blue had been bedeviled by two JDAs which had proved catastrophic for the company.
In 1985 IBM signed a JDA with Microsoft to develop OS/2. It ended the agreement in acrimony with Microsoft holding the trump cards, in 1991. That same year, IBM teamed up with Apple to produce a next-generation operating system, on whose fortunes IBM’s proprietary operating systems would eventually converge. Taligent and WorkPlace OS “are evolving in parallel, and IBM and Taligent are trading technologies back and forth along the way,” reported Byte in 1994. The expensive venture yielded nothing, and a year later, Apple stubbornly refused to be acquired by IBM at the eleventh hour.
With these memories fresh, IBM embarked on a plan to merge its AIX Unix for RISC with SCO’s UnixWare and Sequent’s Dynix/ptx Unixes for x86, porting the result to Intel’s forthcoming 64-bit processor, code-named Merced, and licensing the result to all-comers. Were they crazy? Not quite.
In 1997, when the plan was being hatched, analysts and the big iron vendors braced themselves for Merced to be a roaring success, making proprietary RISC processors like IBM’s own PowerPC uneconomical to produce. Several RISC vendors struck OEM deals with rivals – for example, SGI spin-off MIPS sold its processor to Siemens and Tandem as well as SGI, and Hewlett Packard sold PA-RISC to Hitachi, Stratus and NEC – but none could generate volumes as the Intel world understood volumes. SGI and Hewlett Packard had declared that the unreleased Intel chip was the long-term future. (The instruction set was unveiled in October 1997 and branded Itanium® in 1999).
So the fear factor played a major part in IBM’s decision, but opportunity beckoned too. IBM had shunned industry standards in the 1980s when it introduced its PS/2 series with a proprietary bus, and was aware that licensing allowed it to reach a potentially greater market. Meanwhile, IBM prudently continued to invest in its Power RISC microprocessor architecture.
For the Santa Cruz Operation, a different kind of opportunity beckoned: the big time.
SCO had been licensing its venerable OpenServer Unix for Intel, formerly Xenix, with steady success for a decade, and OEMs ranged from tiny VARs producing point of sales systems to the biggest PC vendor, Compaq. OpenServer was ubiquitous in retail and distribution, and SCO’s unselfish approach to business had encouraged a loyal channel. But OpenServer didn’t scale, so in 1995 the company acquired something that could, UnixWare from Novell.
However, for SCO to develop UnixWare into a serious enterprise contender required a partner with deep pockets. HP flirted with SCO briefly, and when that fell by the wayside, SCO talked to Sequent and Compaq about standardizing interfaces with their joint Bravo Unix project. This was based on DEC’s OSF/1 but ported to run on Intel’s Merced and Compaq’s Alpha processor. The hope was that UnixWare and Bravo would be binary compatible.
But when IBM itself came knocking, it looked like the perfect fit for SCO. With the potential of the 64-bit Intel market, and IBM’s mighty Unix division as a partner, SCO looked like it could hit the big league, with an enterprise class Unix selling on a high-volume processor.
Sequent, who like SCO had been selling Unix on Intel since the early 1980s (only at the high end with multi-processor machines) switched camps, and so in October 1998 Project Monterey was born.
Meanwhile SCO was aware that a low cost Unix on Intel posed a potential threat to its OpenServer business, in the shape of Linux. The OS had been enthusiastically adopted in universities and provided a cheap and dependable platform for network infrastructure. It was no contender to OpenServer, but that changed when a company called Caldera emerged in 1996. Caldera respectfully mimicked SCO’s channel-based business model, and declared SCO customers to be low hanging fruit. By 1998 Linux was gaining publicity, and SCO executives were increasingly fielding questions about something that didn’t look like a competitor as much as a movement.
SCO made friendly with Linux as best it could, pointing out that at the high end, UnixWare was scaling up to 30 node clusters in the labs, and promising it would keep OpenServer up to date as long as customers wanted it. It also demonstrated a way of running Linux binaries on UnixWare, the Linux Kernel Personality (LKP) project.
It was only as 2000 dawned that the bloom began to come off the Monterey rose. IBM had used the LinuxWorld show in January to announce that Linux was a company-wide priority for IBM. In March the New York Times‘ published a Steve Lohr piece “I.B.M. Goes Countercultural With Linux” describing how Big Blue had changed strategy. In October 1999, Sam Palmisano (now IBM chief executive) had assumed command of the server group. On December 22, Palmisano presented CEO Lou Gerstner with the new strategy, and appointed a Linux “czar”, Irving Wladawsky-Berger, to ensure all IBM’s divisions marched in step.
In late spring IBM announced a major upgrade to AIX without any Monterey branding, but with an ‘L’ indicating, the marketeers, claimed, an “affinity” with Linux. Monterey had become the forgotten project. By August 2000, the same month that Caldera agreed to buy the brand and several important assets from SCO, IBM executive David Turek was talking about Monterey in the past tense. “Monterey was a project to make AIX a fully 64bit operating system, and make it run on POWER and IA-64 … and we have done that. It is out in beta, people are doing applications on it, some OEM partners are working on it – and that is the evolution of Project Monterey,” he told The Register.
NewSCO now claims that IBM only told SCO that Monterey was being terminated “on or about May 2001”, nine months later – a claim that IBM rejects.
Meanwhile, Intel’s hopes of storming the RISC camp were encountering problems. 1999 had been a torrid year for Merced. Six months before the Monterey announcement, Intel said Merced would arrive a year later than planned. Its launch would be overshadowed by talk of the second generation IA-64 chip, McKinley. (See Secrets of Intel’s IA-64 Roadmap Revealed [28 April 1999]; HP confirms Merced retreat [5 May 1999]; Merced just a development platform for McKinley [10 May 1999] )
As 2000 turned into 2001, it was clear that Itanium’s debut, delayed a further year, would be very low key indeed. Long before the first generation processor Merced appeared, vendors confirmed Register stories from the previous year that its HP-designed successor McKinley would be the first serious IA-64 contender. (See The lateness of Intel’s Mercedium [20 July 2000].
So Monterey’s fate was no mystery.
Linux was winning broad industry endorsements and support, and was being adopted more quickly than the Monterey partners had expected, as Intel’s 64-chip processor looked like less of a sure-fire RISC killer. Intel’s investment in its 32-bit P6 core was also paying off. The processor had briefly given Intel bragging rights to be the fastest chip in the world, and in Xeon, Intel gave it SMP capabilities and a large cache. IA-32 sales rocketed.
The Monterey Mystery
Groklaw makes some odd claims, including the emphatic “discovery” that Monterey was intended to run on IBM’s POWER RISC processor. But this was never a secret – it was one of the project’s initial goals, and widely publicized.
“As we now know, the plan was to move to Linux at the earliest opportunity anyhow,” writes the author. The point is repeated over several articles: Monterey was a “stop gap”.
“We knew oldSCO knew, when Project Monterey was going on, that Linux was the future and Project Monterey the stopgap,” claims Groklaw.
At one point, a Register article is produced as evidence. In it a SCO employee working on the LKP (Linux-on-Unixware).
“Was SCO fully aware how quickly Linux would develop, that it would replace Unix, or did it take them by surprise? I have found the answer to that question. In an article in August 2001, in the Register, Caldera — what SCO then called itself — predicted ‘In two to five years Linux will surpass where Unix is now’”
But that’s a prediction by an engineer, not a strategy statement.
The most damning evidence offered in the Monterey Mystery is an IBM marketing document which can be found here, at DataTrends Inc., an IBM consultancy.
In it, IBM claims:
“Linux, over time, will develop into the standard application development platform for the spectrum of applications that comprise our customers’ e-business solutions.”
But there’s a big difference between a development platform and a deployment platform. The document is designed to assure IBM’s Monterey, Linux and AIX customers that its server strategy won’t leave anyone stranded. It offers little more than that.
The timing of its publication is particularly important. It appeared on the day that Steve Lohr’s New York Times article appeared detailing the Palmisano/Wladewsky-Berger strategy. IBM co-operated with the Times and anticipated that its emphasis on Linux might make AIX and prospective Monterey customers nervous.
It’s difficult to envisage Groklaw’s conjecture swaying a court case, but it provides SCO with valuable public relations ammunition.
What’s a little more surprising is how the series continued to gain traction on the internet despite the fact it was a deeply flawed. Commenters who pointed out the shortcomings of the argument were lost in the Groklaw noise.
The saga illustrates one of the perils of online forums, the “echo chamber” effect. Many participants join a forum to have beliefs re-affirmed, and context is often a casualty. It’s also a characteristic of the “information age” that facts are often applauded regardless of whether they make sense in a particular context. It has been baffling to read of the “revelation” that Monterey would run on POWER, when it was well known to all from the outset. More facts don’t make a better argument.
We understand that the stories have already been modified to reflect input from outside the Groklaw forum itself – some of the phrases we quote have already disappeared – and a further article explaining the saga will follow.
But self-correcting, these things ain’t.