Bill Gates Claims Open Source Means Nobody Can Improve Software

from the say-what-now? dept

Wired is running an interesting article about Bill Gates' thoughts on the pharmaceutical industry, which he's increasingly focused on as he transitions out of Microsoft and into his foundation. He clearly understands the basic problem, though I think he has the wrong solution in brushing off the idea that "open sourcing" medicine is a huge opportunity. As for why... well, I'll be discussing that in a future post. Instead, for this post, I wanted to focus on a rather bizarre statement out of Gates (all the way at the end of the article) in discussing why he dislikes open source software. His complaint is that open source creates a license "so that nobody can ever improve the software." It's hard to figure out how to respond to that statement since it's the exact opposite of how open source software works. The exact point is that anyone can improve the software. It's proprietary software like Microsoft's that's limited such that only Microsoft is allowed to improve it. It's no secret that Gates isn't a fan of open source software, but it still seems odd that he would make a statement that is so obviously false, both in theory and in practice. Perhaps old FUD habits die hard, but one would hope that as he enters "retirement" he'll have a more open mind on such things.

Filed Under: bill gates, open source, pharmaceuticals


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  1. identicon
    Chris Maresca, 24 Apr 2008 @ 11:22am

    Re: Re: Re: In a practical sense he is right

    Probably not in that exact way, no. What you could do is create a separate interface using sockets , IP connections, etc (and license that under a GPL-compatible license), that does not involve compiling any GPL pieces in your code. The FSF, which produced the GPL, is basically concerned about "co-mingling" which would be anything that is linked (static or dynamic), but accessing a program through an abstracted interface that is detached, such as unix sockets, is fine.

    Note that there are a lot of other things that need to be understood before using this as a strategy, such as which version of the GPL you are dealing with, what are the business objectives behind this, and is the code you are trying to protect really that valuable that this is worth doing. Often, this involves getting advice from people who have BTDT and legal counsel who has expertise in this area.

    BTW, you're use case has pointed out another advantage of open source code, which is that the licenses often enforce modularity, which is a good thing.

    Chris.

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