I once asked SCO Group CEO Darl McBride what he does to relax from the pressure of running one of the most hated companies in the software industry–given its claims to Unix copyright violations in Linux in lawsuits against IBM and noted Linux users like Daimler Chrysler and AutoZone. He drives to Las Vegas from his home in Utah and does some gambling, he said. Not sure if he saw the irony there.
Last week, his professional gambling odds improved a little. The company filed an 8k report with the SEC saying that stock options for McBride and other top executives would vest immediately and be exercisable immediately if there were “changes of control” at the company (meaning someone buys more than 50 percent of the stock in SCO).
But the long-term odds remain, well, long. Last fall, SCO negotiated a deal with its law firm capping fees at $31 million in return for a 20-30 percent share of any settlement or award from a jury.
But taking a bigger cut doesn’t work if the pie starts to spoil. Time could be running out for SCO in 2005. That has not so much to do with the merits of its case as its business model. Losses are mounting, and SCO’s total revenue is tumbling ($42.8 million for 2004, down about 46 percent from 2003) because it comes from a shrinking base of existing customers. New customers won’t touch SCO with a 10-foot server and Unix is getting hurt generally by Linux.
Worse, its two biggest revenue sources—Microsoft and Sun—shot their wad in 2003. Together they gave SCO $25,846,000 in licensing fees to pay for their use of Unix. (OK, you say, I can see Microsoft pitching in, but why Sun? Because Linux is hurting Unix sales even more than Windows–and Sun isn’t doing much in the Linux business compared with IBM.) SCO’s licensing revenue for 2004 through the end of July was down to $829,000. Evidently, not many CIOs are convinced that they should be paying SCO license fees for the Unix code that is allegedly in Linux. This was supposed to be SCO’s cash cow. If it wins against IBM, the licensing revenue might start to flow, but this lawsuit could drag on forever. “This is a death match,” said McBride of the IBM lawsuit last Fall. “Either we win or we die.” Though the company insists it has enough money to see the case through, SCO’s business is already on life support.