Bill Gates’ Disdain for Open Source Even in Retirement

By Mark Hinkle

Bill Gates steps down as the Chairman of Microsoft on July 1st to transition to full time philanthropic efforts with the Gates Foundation. However, I wonder how effective Bill will be other than writing checks. You see Bill’s never played well with others.

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At a speech on Monday for the Institute of Systems Biology he gave a speech followed by a Q&A session he reportedly answered one poor chap’s questions on whether open source methodologies would be used in his research.

Gates responded with the following:

“There’s free software and then there’s open source,” he suggested, noting that Microsoft gives away its software in developing countries. With open source software, on the other hand, “there is this thing called the GPL, which we disagree with.”

Open source, he said, creates a license “so that nobody can ever improve the software,” he claimed, bemoaning the squandered opportunity for jobs and business. (Yes, Linux fans, we’re aware of how distorted this definition is.) He went back to the analogy of pharmaceuticals: “I think if you invent drugs, you should be able to charge for them,” he said, adding with a shrug: “That may seem radical.”

Touché Bill. Of course competing with the monopoly that is Microsoft requires radical measures. Competition among desktop operating systems is pretty much non-existent. It even looks like Windows will someday become the OS of choice on the current Linux-based  OLPC project.

Now children in the poorest nations in the world who might have been given a chance to learn about free and open source software will be given Windows. Hooking them early, like handing out crack cocaine in kindergarten and waiting until graduation to start selling to the addicts.

Without compromise there is no progress. In the software world Gates was the Godfather he didn’t need to work with anyone until the Justice Department ruled against him. Even as the richest man in the world he’s got to work together with researchers and others if he wants to be successful. Too bad he didn’t learn anything about open source’s collaborative values it might have served him well as he tries to help cure disease and improve world health standards.

I have to wonder if he will be able to make the transition from dictator to do-gooder or if he will just write checks?

For more Mark Hinkle, visit his Socialized Software blog.