Tuesday, March 09, 2004

interesting gcc note

Recently I've been playing around with gcc for a class project. As part of this project, I downloaded the sources for gcc 3.3.2 (released 17 Oct. 2003), and found an interesting file named README.SCO. Its current contents read as follows:

As all users of GCC will know, SCO has recently made claims concerning alleged copyright infringement by recent versions of the operating system kernel called Linux. SCO has made irresponsible public statements about this supposed copyright infringement without releasing any evidence of the infringement, and has demanded that users of Linux, the kernel most often used with the GNU system, pay for a license. This license is incompatible with the GPL, and in the opinion of the Free Software Foundation such a demand unquestionably violates the GNU General Public License under which the kernel is distributed.

We have been urged to drop support for SCO Unix from this release of GCC, as a protest against this irresponsible aggression against free software and GNU/Linux. However, the direct effect of this action would fall on users of GCC rather than on SCO. For the moment, we have decided not to take that action. The Free Software Foundation's overriding goal is to protect the freedom of the free software community, including developers and users, but we also want to serve users. Protecting the community from an attack sometimes requires steps that will inconvenience some in the community. Such a step is not yet necessary, in our view, but we cannot indefinitely continue to ignore the aggression against our community taken by a party that has long profited from the commercial distribution of our programs. We urge users of SCO Unix to make clear to SCO their disapproval of the company's aggression against the free software community. We will have a further announcement concerning continuing support of SCO Unix by GCC before our next release.

An interesting threat. If gcc were traditional proprietary software, and SCO were a real technology company, then SCO would be shitting their pants, because SCO sells Unix, and gcc is to Unix programming what vulcanized rubber is to driving an automobile. However, as it is, dropping support for SCO would be a largely symbolic action, for two reasons:

  1. gcc is not proprietary software. The (L)GPL under which gcc is distributed gives SCO the source code and legal freedom to maintain the SCO Unix port themselves. Furthermore, gcc is highly portable to any platform that even vaguely resembles Unix. So, even if the gcc steering committee stopped maintaining a SCO port entirely, a couple of in-house gcc hackers at SCO could easily keep SCO Unix gcc alive --- all because of the (L)GPL. The irony is obvious.
  2. The SCO Group is not a real technology company. The two predecessors of The SCO Group --- The Santa Cruz Operation and Caldera Inc. --- were once real technology companies. Now, SCO exists purely as a litigation-based concern. Even if all Unix compilers magically stopped working on SCO Unix tomorrow, SCO would keep chugging along, because software products and services are completely irrelevant to the company's current mission: to harass deep-pocketed companies with bogus lawsuits, in a desperate attempt to either (1) annoy someone enough to get bought, or at least (2) drive up the stock price long enough for the owners to cash out.

OK, must get back to work.

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