|Darl McBride has roiled the industry like no one else this year.
As one close friend, Ty Mattingly, a former co-worker at Novell, said to him: "Congratulations. In a few short months you've dethroned Bill Gates as the most hated man in the industry."
And that was only the assessment of a friend. McBride, 43, president and CEO of The SCO Group, didn't set out to claim that honor, but neither is he one to back down from a fight. He knew what he was up against when he asserted that SCO owned rights to code within the Linux operating system, based on its ownership of the original Unix developed by AT&T's Bell Labs.
A billion-dollar lawsuit filed March 6 against IBM for allegedly transferring SCO-owned code from AIX into the Linux OS has the open-source community up in arms. SCO has also sent letters to big corporate users asking for royalties. Needless to say, the debate over what SCO's rights are, and which of the many flavors of Unix are legally related to SCO's property, has become not only highly arcane but also an intensely emotional debate.
But while McBride has his detractors, investors appear to approve of his tactics. The company's market capitalization zoomed from $26.9 million before the suit was filed to more than $240 million last month. The company also reported $7.28 million in revenue from Unix licenses during the third quarter.
McBride claims he didn't want to resort to lawsuits or to pressuring Linux customers to pay royalties. Rather, he says he first reached out to the leaders of the Linux community to resolve the issue, but was largely ignored or vilified.
He says he sent an e-mail to Linus Torvalds, but Torvalds never responded. Torvalds denies that, but has been dismissive of SCO's claims. McBride also says he attended a conference to break bread with Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik. "He stood up during his keynote, with me in the audience, and said he was going to take SCO head on," McBride says. "And two weeks later at Linux World, IBM [announced it] imported AIX into Linux.
"When people are lining up against you on all sides and taking shots at you, you have to fire back," he says.
To McBride, it was simply a matter of protecting his own. Right or wrong, McBride is likely to stick to his guns, a trait he learned growing up in the rural farming community of Ephraim, Utah, population 2,000. At a young age, his father gave him his own cattle and cornfield and handed him a checkbook.
His brother, Kevin McBride, says the boys were also taught how to shoot. "We were taught to protect ourselves and what was ours at a very early age and started carrying guns for hunting when we were very young," Kevin says.
Kevin also described his brother, the middle child, as the peacemaker in the family. "It's an odd juxtaposition to the way the industry is labeling him as disruptive," he says.
During his career at Novell, McBride exhibited a penchant for taking on tough assignments, says Mattingly, who worked with McBride at Novell and later at SBI, a professional services company McBride founded in 1997.
"When Novell asked who wanted to go to grow Novell's business in Japan, no one was thrilled with the prospect, but Darl stood up and said, 'I'll go,' and he picked up his family and moved to Japan for a couple of years," Mattingly says.
By the time McBride returned, Novell's revenue for Japan was $150 million. "Then he took on Novell's Embedded Systems Division, and along with that, he took on Microsoft as a result, which was another thing no one wanted to do," Mattingly says.
Despite his past successes, McBride is the first to admit that people look at him as the guy chasing the lawsuit.
"But what they don't see is that we're trying to defend the rights of capitalism for the silent majority," McBride says. "Linux leaders pound the table about a community-driven model where everything is free, and that's the flip side of capitalism. This country was founded on capitalism, the right to make a profit for what you own, not give it away for free."
Those are fighting words, certain to stoke the fires of his debate with the open-source community. Some of that "silent majority" has already lashed out at SCO. In addition to the public broadsides from Linux leaders and a countersuit filed by IBM, the company was hit in August with a series of denial-of-service attacks, the third such attacks on the company in four months.
But McBride is used to taking a beating. "It's like back on the farm where we had to break a new colt and try and tame them," McBride says. "You'd get bucked off and thrown into the fences, and with your back bleeding, you'd get back up and do it again."
This time around, though, McBride isn't trying to tame a young colt, but an entire open-source community.