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What Is the Internet?

By Annalee Newitz

SEVERAL THINGS in the past few weeks have driven me into a Hulk-like rage of geek fury. One of those things was the new Hulk flick, but we'll let that one slide for now. You'll just have to banish Ang Lee's misguided movie from your mind as you imagine me getting greener and greener, madder and madder, until I'm finally several yards tall, the glasses have popped off my distended face and I'm punching the Windows 98 boxes that litter my office, screaming, "NERD ANGRY!!! NERD SMASH!!!"

It all started, like so many geek rampages have recently, with a stupid Microsoft puppet company called the Santa Cruz Operation (SCO). My devious hacker friend Mason kept sending me links about SCO that he'd ripped off from Slashdot, which he would follow up with a phone call. "What have you done to hurt SCO today?" he'd ask. When I admitted I'd done nothing more than read the SCO story told using characters from The Dukes of Hazzard (www.arie.org/doh/), he would giggle evilly and say, "I've been crank calling them all morning on their 800 number! Mwah mwah mwah!"

Great. I'm not cool enough to crank call SCO and ask them why their network has mysteriously crashed yet again. SCO has been having strange problems with its office computers ever since the Unix vendor decided to sue IBM for $3 billion.

You may be asking: What the hell is insignificant little SCO doing in a lawsuit like that? Well, SCO claims IBM yanked some proprietary intellectual property (i.e., lines of code) out of Unix (which SCO owns by virtue of some buyout shenanigans during the wild and woolly 1990s) and tossed it over to Linus Torvalds (the engineer responsible for creating Linux), who apparently smuggled that code into his dirty little operating system. Meanwhile, in a most amusing move, SCO has declined to identify exactly which pieces of the code in Linux were stolen from them.

Early in this whole shit storm, Microsoft licensed SCO's Unix technology, thereby giving a hot cash injection to the flagging company and implicitly supporting their claim.

Basically, the whole damn circus is a plot to undermine the credibility of Linux, an operating system that Microsoft considers one of the greatest threats to its empire. And yet there might be some troubling precedents set once the FUD vapor clears. SCO's high-powered lawyer.

David Boies (who represented the federal government in its antitrust suit against Microsoft), intends to argue that SCO owns copyrights to parts of the Unix operating system, which would set all kinds of dangerous precedents in future litigation because so many operating systems have bits of Unix and Unix-like code in them. You see why Microsoft might be excited about this idea. It would lead to more lawsuits and could ultimately make it a lot harder for companies without deep pockets to adopt open-source systems based on Unix or Linux.

Musing disgustedly on all this, I was interrupted by a call on my cell. "Is this Annalee Newitz?" an unfamiliar voice asked. Damn, if I wasn't getting a telemarketing pitch on my previously spam-free cell phone: "Hi, I'm Puke Licker from Comcast, and we're wondering if you'd like to sign up for our new digital Internet service for a special rate this month."

After a long pause, I asked, "What is the Internet?"

This question obviously wasn't on his script. "Well, it's like computers," he explained helpfully. "Do you use computers in your home?"

"Oh no, we don't do that at my house. Sorry," I replied, clicking off.

So there you have it, boys and girls, right from the mouth of some technoplebe at Comcast: the Internet is like computers. See, no matter what SCO says and what the courts decide and whose asshole Microsoft is ramming full of its giant splintery dildo this month, the people have spoken. The Internet, whose software infrastructure is based almost entirely on Unix, is computers. Can any single corporate entity claim copyright on computers? Nope. I mean, what are computers, after all? I'll bet they're like the Internet. And nobody owns that, right?

Yeah, right. This is one of those moments when I wish there were an emoticon for sarcasm.

Annalee Newitz ([email protected]) is a surly media nerd who finally did something to hurt SCO today.

Send a letter to the editor about this story to letters@metronews.com.

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From the June 26-July 2, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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