Caldera OpenLinux

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Caldera OpenLinux is a defunct Linux distribution that was created by the former Caldera Systems (now SCO Group) corporation. It was the early "business-oriented distribution" and foreshadowed the direction of developments that came to most other distributions and the Linux community generally.

Novell and Corsair[edit]

Corsair, a user interface for NetWare, was a project founded inside of the Novell corporation within the Advanced Technology Group. Novell wanted an internet desktop and conducted research on how to better and more easily integrate and manage network access for users. The Windows networking support for Novell networks would not be improved until later releases[1] and the internet was dominated by Unix-based operating systems. Relative to their needs, Novell deemed the Unixes of the day were too hardware intensive, too large, and charged too much in license fees.[2]

This group became convinced that Linux offered the best possible answer for the OS component. There were many other components as well, of particular interest were:

On April 5, 1994, the Board of Novell brought in Robert Frankenberg, the general manager of Hewlett-Packard Personal Information Products Group to replace Ray Noorda as CEO of Novell. Novell's stock price had performed poorly recently due to flagging growth. At Novell the Network division was growing at a pace of 19% per year, the Unix business division which was flat, and the Desktop Applications division which was shrinking at a rate of $400 million per year. Frankenberg's initiative was to refocus the company on networking and networking services. In terms of the Corsair that meant shedding most of the pieces. Negotiations started which would eventually lead to Wordperfect being sold off to Corel. The Advanced Technology Group was disbanded which shut down Willow and the OS project. Ferret was in line with the new direction and this component was kept within Novell. Ray Noorda had founded a venture capital investment group called the Canopy Group two years earlier. He felt there was substantial promise in both the OS project and the Willow project. He created two companies, to continue the work started at Novell. The OS company was called Caldera, and the API company Willows Software.

Noorda's early vision for Caldera was to create an IPX-based version of Linux which would license the key components, resell this technology back to Novell to continue the "Internet Desktop." In effect, Caldera started life as an outsourcing project for Novell. Caldera started with ten employees and most were from Novell: Bryan Sparks, founder/president (Novell); Bryce Burns, chief operations officer (Novell); Ransom Love, VP marketing (Novell); Greg Page, VP engineering (Bell Labs, AT&T); Craig Bradley, VP Sales (Lotus, Word Perfect).

Caldera network desktop[edit]

Back of Network Desktop 1 box

At this point Ransom Love and Noorda took note of the technologies that Caldera put together. Specifically:

More than just a component for Novell, Caldera has assembled the components needed to create a VAR platform. Caldera faced a chicken and egg problem. OEM VAR applications often depended crucially on other company's commercial applications. Since these other applications hadn't been ported to Linux yet they couldn't meaningfully port their own applications. Caldera responded by creating a binary applications package which allowed Linux to run Unixware and OpenServer applications, the Linux Application Binary Interface (ABI) project, and assisting SCO in creating the Linux kernel Personalities.[5] Linux Kernel Personalities was worked on to bring Linux application compatibility to SCO Unix (formerly UnixWare) and OpenServer. "The idea was to enable developers to write for both Unix and Linux with a common Application Programming Interface (API) and common Application Binary Interface (ABI). That way developers didn't have to work so hard, and Unix users, the client base we inherited from SCO, could run Linux applications."[6]

Caldera also supported Alan Cox in his work on SMP.[7] If Linux destroyed the Unix base on Intel then Sun Microsystems wouldn't have a low-end Unix path. This point becomes more interesting in light of SCO's litigation 8 years later. That is IBM was not the company involved in the SMP work and moreover the company most directly involved is the company that later became the SCO group, essentially SCO suing IBM for work it itself did.

During 1996, Caldera continued to be a valuable player, for example, on May 23, 1996, at the Linux Kongress in Berlin, Germany, Caldera announced its plans to obtain POSIX and FIPS Certifications and the X/Open brand for UNIX 95 and XPG4 BASE 95 for the Linux operating system kernel.[8]

Caldera Logo

By 1997 Caldera had taken on the form that it would be most remembered for. Caldera had switched over to the high end Linux product. The "business" linux distribution became more rich with features with bundled proprietary software. However, it became less community oriented and was released less frequently than other Linuxes did. Other differences included automated configuration for administration tools, paid technical support staff, built-in consistent default GUI, and a range of supported applications. In 1995, for example when XFree86 was still very hard to configure and unreliable on most chip sets, Caldera had shipped with MetroLink's Motif and XI Graphic's Accelerated-X.

Commercial extensions[edit]

Over the next 5 years Caldera offered additional commercial extensions to Linux. They licensed Sun's Wabi to allow people to run Windows applications under Linux. Additionally, they shipped with Linux versions of Word Perfect (from Novell and later Corel) and CorelDRAW. Since many of their customers used a dual boot setup and FIPS was unreliable, they shipped with PartitionMagic to allow their customers to non destructively repartition their disk. In partnership with IBM they produced the first Linux distribution which was DB2 compatible. With the Oracle Corporation they became the target platform for the Linux port of the Oracle database. Other ventures included starting the Blackdown Java project, founding the Embedix distribution, created professional certification. They also formed strong partnerships with SCO's value-added reseller market and started laying the groundwork for OEM sales of Unix-based vertical applications. By the end Caldera offered 3 versions:

In addition to other people's applications, they created many Linux extensions to fill voids where no other commercial company was. Caldera began working on a Linux equivalent of replacing the Microsoft Exchange Server and Microsoft Outlook that would eventually become Volution Messaging Server. Volution Messaging Server which was a replacement for exchange server integration with Microsoft's Outlook and offers calendaring/scheduling options with shared busy/free information, SSL support for e-mail and easy configuration.[9] Additionally, they created the first fully graphical installer for Linux, called Lizard. They invented browser-based Unix system administration and created the webmin project as well as purchasing DR-DOS to create OpenDOS to help port DOS applications.

Caldera created a full featured GUI system administration tool called Caldera Open Administration System (COAS). The tool was a unified, easy to use administration tool with a modular design. With its scalability and broad scope abilities it featured:[10][11]

OpenLinux was not a Microsoft killer, but it showed the Linux community what would be required to create a mainstream desktop OS out of the Linux kernel. In many ways the last 10 years of desktop progress has been to successfully implement what Caldera was attempting to do with the tools they had available using open source software in place of the closed applications. Their technique for this was to utilize commercial software to fill in the largest gaps making their product a "value add" and thus they could charge for it. It made them the most commercial and at the same time it made them the most advanced distribution available.

Lineo and marketing[edit]

In July 1999, Caldera decided on a major refocus of the embedded system portion, where Caldera's technologies fully owned were well ahead of competitor's products. These technologies included:

  • Rt-Control provided UCLinux - a version of Linux for microcontrollers, such as the Motorola 68k/ColdFire line, i960, ARM7, and ETRAX CRIS chips. With these chips lacking MMU and thus unable to provide multi-tasking capabilities, uClinux is able to run full-featured in as little as 150 KB of RAM with a 1 MB ROM chip.
  • FirePlug - Linux-based projects, such as their Linux firewall built on the ThinLinux product, which runs in as little as 2 MB of disk/flash storage and 8 MB RAM.
  • Embedix - Lineo's flagship product that runs a complete multitasking, networked Linux operating system in 2 MB of ROM/flash and 4 MB of RAM.
  • Embedix SDK and the Embedix Browser - a fully graphical internet browser for embedded systems, this was in essence the Zenotropix browser.

This combination of technologies allowed Caldera to offer a full Linux operating system with a graphical browser that could run off a floppy disk. More importantly the product was unique, and this came from the fact that Caldera's view on the Linux embedded market was differed from other vendors.[12] All the other vendors believed that Linux was heavily fragmented and that the solution was to offer Linux features for real time OSes, that is a Linux API for some other OSes. Red Hat with its EL/IX created a kernel independent framework (API) which allowed some Linux software to run on the eCos kernel. Caldera did not agree with this assessment and believed the API was offered far more advantages and allowed for a fully hardened system, that is Caldera utilized a custom Linux kernel. Through the six companies embedded Linux company Lineo acquired, they were able to extend the same Linux technology across multiple chip architectures and add real-time capabilities. The acquisitions gave broader Linux support, from very small microcontrollers, through traditional platforms like x86, and up to high end, high availability systems.[12]

Lineo spin off[edit]

Lineo Logo

Bryan Sparks, CEO of Caldera, went on to split off Lineo from Caldera as a technology company under his own direction. The desktop company became Caldera International under the direction of Ransom Love. The focus for the desktop company became mainly marketing and business relationships. There were several reasons for this. The first was that Caldera had won a $250 million lawsuit against Microsoft for DR-DOS and was flush with cash. Secondly, while the Caldera distribution was good, its primary advantages were the use of technologies not owned by Caldera and thus if Caldera were successful its success could (from a technical standpoint) be imitated, by Red Hat, SUSE, TurboLinux, etc. Third, for years Caldera had been competing directly with SCO Unix, but by 1997 Linux outperformed SCO in almost every respect. Making the choice to switch from SCO to Caldera was not a "no-brainer" for companies because that also meant a switch of vendors and support organizations. Caldera's SCO acquisition was aimed at eliminating this problem. That is Caldera International's corporate direction became to combine SCO's distribution, marketing and VAR arm with LAMP, and use Project Monterey to develop a 64-bit strategy. What SCO offered was:[13]

  • A strong list of business clients.
  • Higher compatibility between SCO and Linux than any other Unix/Linux combination, mainly as a result of Caldera's long standing SCO focus that created products like ABI and thus resulted in ports of SCO code to Linux
  • A good back-office and database solution while Linux specialized in networking (LAMP) and client desktop, a very appealing combination in challenging Sun and Microsoft
  • A global infrastructure (presence in about 80 countries), Caldera was domestic
  • Thousands of business applications targeted to vertical markets
  • Some of the 3rd party components needed to get HP-UX, AIX, Solaris 3rd party Java applications ported to Linux

From a technical standpoint however Caldera OpenLinux really shone during the Ransom Love years. Their commercial bundling solution continued to work. They had a powerful low bug (by Linux standards) distribution that worked well on a wide range of hardware. They charged a great deal relative to other distribution and were able to generate a very strong profit. Red Hat pulled way ahead of them in terms of US sales and on the global sales front they trailed SUSE and TurboLinux as well, but financially due to the DR-DOS settlement they were the strongest of all the Linux distributions.

United Linux[edit]

United Linux mascot

Caldera quickly found itself in a classic business problem where the interests of the existing business conflicted with their growth model. SCO was a much larger company than Caldera International had been (the DR-DOS settlement had been what made the buyout possible), and in fact of the $71 million of revenue 90% was from the SCO side of the business. Moreover, Caldera costs $4 in marketing to generate a $1 in sales,[14] SCO was mature and sold itself (mainly to repeat customers). The VAR relationship was even more problematic. Caldera had always sold the "Linux is SCO but better" model and had done everything possible to make the transition from SCO to Caldera relatively seamless. Each of the 14,000 SCO resellers made much more from each SCO sale than from sales of Caldera so they were not anxious to move existing customers from SCO to Linux; and even those that were supportive of Linux saw no strong value add for Caldera and often sold Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Caldera had two businesses in direct competition one which was a shrinking but still profitable Unix business, the other a rapidly growing business that was still hemorrhaging money.

The most logical solution was to establish Caldera as the premier Linux brand. Without the threat from Red Hat, transitioning resellers from SCO to Caldera would be much easier. With this in mind Ransom Love formed an alliance of large business oriented Linux distributions which utilized the KDE desktop, called United Linux. The alliance comprised Caldera, SUSE Linux, Turbolinux, and Conectiva. Filings from Novell in the SCO Group SCO v. Novell lawsuit showed that this was more than simply a marketing gimmick, and was a real alliance.[15]

Business responded favorably to the movement as IBM and AMD quickly formed partnerships. The Linux Professional Institute adopted United Linux as their standard distribution for training. For the first time there was a Linux distribution with:

  • Global scope
  • Global support at the VAR, OEM and distribution level
  • A full training organization
  • Some governmental buy-in
  • Support from major corporations
  • Enterprise applications like Oracle supported out of the box
  • An actual production GUI that ran well on a variety of hardware

SUSE Linux had the engineering as it had continued to maintain a large technical staff, Caldera had the global support organization and Turbo Linux and Conectiva brought with growth potential into less flooded markets. This merger was so successful that Love and Sparks could claim vindication that year when Novell reversed the Frankenberg decision and brought United Linux engineering talent back into the fold with the acquisition of SUSE.

United Linux was rejected by the broader Linux community;[16] the use of per seat licensing was their most highly controversial decision.[17] More importantly by the time United Linux was released Caldera was already dead. Darl McBride had become CEO of Caldera International and the focus had shifted away from Linux.

As an incidental Caldera at this point released a Caldera "Linux distribution" with the OpenUNIX 8 kernel instead of the Linux kernel. Unix has TLI and STREAMS support which makes writing drivers easier. Caldera proved this by replacing the kernel and yet not having to change much else on a full featured desktop and server "Linux." [18][19]

Copyright infringement allegations[edit]

In 2002, the Caldera board of directors, including Ralph Yarro, brought in the CEO of Franklin-Covey Darl McBride. Almost immediately he saw the value of Caldera as being primarily the value of SCO[citation needed]. The company was renamed The SCO Group. Ransom Love was reassigned to work exclusively on United Linux. After he completed this, he left the company to join Progeny Linux Systems which was aiming to create a professional Debian. He remained there in the capacity of a board member and advisor[20] until April 30, 2007 when Progeny ceased operations.

McBride began to focus on SCO's copyrights. One of McBride's first acts as CEO was to collect $600,000 in back licensing fees that were owed due to Caldera. He cleaned up various Linux-related licensing issues allowing for a new round of financing.[21] Soon thereafter he made strong accusations that Linux had infringed copyrights SCO held on Unix; they claimed to have purchased these copyrights from Novell. Novell denied selling them Unix, prompting them to sue for slander of title. SCO also initiated lawsuits against IBM and AutoZone, alleging copyright infringements through the use or distribution of Linux; none of these lawsuits have been resolved. SCO has created a division, SCOSource, that owns and licenses their intellectual property; a desktop license is $699.


  1. ^ "Windows Desktop Products History - 1993: Windows for Workgroups 3.11". Retrieved 2008-09-24. 
  2. ^ "Caldera and Corsair - Who is Caldera, and what is Corsair, really?". Linux Journal. 1995-06-01. Retrieved 2008-09-24. 
  3. ^ "willows TWIN". Free Software Directory. Retrieved 2008-09-24. [dead link]
  4. ^ "Ferret Meeting Browser - User Guide". Idiap research institute. Retrieved 2008-09-24. 
  5. ^ "Linux Kernel Personality for UnixWare 7". SCO Group, Inc. Retrieved 2008-09-24. 
  6. ^ Vaughan-Nichols, Steven (2003-09-25). "Ransom Love, Co-founder of Caldera and SCO, Speaks of Unix, GPL and the Lawsuit". Retrieved 2008-09-24. 
  7. ^ Cox, Alan. "Re: BKL removal". Unix Systems Support Group. Retrieved 2008-09-24. 
  8. ^ Fisk, John M. (1996-07-30). "Caldera OpenLinux seeking POSIX and FIPS Certification for the Linux OS". Linux Gazette. Retrieved 2008-09-24. 
  9. ^ Kirch, Olaf (2002-05-04). "Caldera Volution Messaging Server: A Product Review". Linux Journal. Retrieved 2008-09-24. 
  10. ^ "COAS". NLUUG. 1998-06-23. Retrieved 2009-03-16. [dead link]
  11. ^ "COAS: A Flexible Approach to System Administration Tools". Linux Journal. February 1, 1999. Retrieved 2008-09-24. 
  12. ^ a b Lehrbaum, Rick (2000-05-23). "An interview with Lineo CEO, Bryan Sparks". Archived from the original on 2013-01-27. Retrieved 2008-09-24. 
  13. ^ "Ransom Love Interview and Caldera Systems, Inc at Comdex Fall 2000". Retrieved 2008-09-24. 
  14. ^ Stone, Brad (July 2004). "The Linux Killer". Wired. Retrieved 2006-11-13. 
  15. ^ "Novell's, Inc.'s Motion to Stay". 2006-04-10. Retrieved 2008-09-24. 
  16. ^ Mueller, Dietmar (2001-06-25). "Open source leaders duke it out". ZDNet. Retrieved 2008-09-24. [dead link]
  17. ^ "Timothy R. Butler Interview". Retrieved 2008-09-24. 
  18. ^ One of the main features of Caldera Open Unix 8 is the LKP, which stands for Linux Kernel Personality. It's a Linux kernel running at the same time as the Unix kernel. It's a full install of Caldera OpenLinux 3.1 on top of Open Unix 8. 1.49 from OpenUNIX 8 FAQ
  19. ^ The result is transparent execution of Open UNIX 8 (or UnixWare 7) applications and most Linux applications, which will run without modification or recompilation. from Caldera(R), SCO(R) Unveil Open UNIX(R) 8 Press Release March 26, 2001
  20. ^ "Board of Directors". Archived from the original on 2006-05-09. Retrieved 2008-09-24. 
  21. ^ Shankland, Stephen (2002-07-27). "Struggling Linux company swaps CEOs". CNET. Retrieved 2008-09-24. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]