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. icon
    PaulT (profile), 25 Apr 2008 @ 4:09am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "Just how much time and effort did you put into giving MS constructive feedback about your Vista problems?"

    In my case, none. But only because the problem was extremely well documented by the time I obtained it. Those problems existed for nearly a year on a closed, proprietary product, and was clearly the cause of major headaches for thousands of users - hardly a single sample. My mistake was in assuming that after nearly a year on the market, the updates available for my unaltered, pre-installed, paid-for OS would have fixed it. Not until after I'd spent a month waiting for SP1.

    Anyway, you seem to be missing my points during the rest of your message:

    "And the VAST majority of people have never given feedback to MS. Instead, they've let other people (mainly their IT support geeks) do it for them."

    ...which feedback makes it back to MS in various forms. If the company's an MS partner, there are specific channels through which ongoing problems are reported. Information makes it back to Microsoft, even if just a small proportion of people do it directly.

    One example of this is Office 2007. Microsoft polled their partners as to which features their customers most wanted in 2007. hey were surprised to find that most of the features requested were already in Office, but people had problems finding them. This led to the redesigned ribbon menu system.

    Compared that to the people complaining about Linux but never going further than "I don't like it". Feeding back information, even on a forum like this, would be a good start. Imaging if the people contacted for Office 2007 had just said "I dunno" when asked about features - nothing would have changed for the new versions.

    "The fact is that MS and other "closed SW suppliers" are already there. My family or friends can just go down to Fry's or wherever to and pick something up. Throw the disk in, and get going. What you are BEGGING them to do is help you in YOUR pursuit to get there. And that is just not their fucking problem."

    No, you're completely misunderstanding my point. Yes, you can go to a major retailer and buy a copy of Windows. Frankly, I don't care whether you can buy an overpriced retail box in a store, but that's irrelevant to my original post. The Fry's people don't care about the experience you have after buying the product - just try and get any post-installation support for anything but major known issues. If you get it, you'll be paying for it.

    Too many people, including experienced users such as yourself and Alexio, seem to spend a lot of time complaining that Linux and other FOSS "isn't ready" or "isn't good enough" without elaborating further. My point was that until you actually start saying WHY you don't like it, it's never going to improve. For example, I stated above one of the major reasons I don't like Vista - it was ridiculously slow and unstable, even on a fresh install on a new machine. I could go into other things that Linux had over and above Vista in my experience (e.g. the ability to change the display language without having to fork over $200 for an upgraded version), but the point was I made specific complaints.

    For some people, the problem with Linux is that they don't like the look and feel. Others miss certain Windows-specific applications. Others have small, niggling difficulties performing certain tasks.

    If, for example, Alexio had given a few small details to Xandros, they may be able to fix the problems, especially if the latter was the case. If it was just the look and feel that Alexio didn't like, he could have stated what he'd prefer and someone could have suggested a different distribution that was closer to his needs.

    But, since he didn't say what his needs were, nor how Xandros was failing to meet them, how will they ever be met?

    "Jumping to the conclusion that if someone doesn't want to spend a lot of time on the OS itself then they must have zero knowledge. Typical binary thinking Full knowledge and devotion (1) versus zero knowledge (0). Missing the point that the household computer has become to the users, a commodity just like the microwave, TV, and dishwasher. Just how much time and effort have any of us put into those things' improvements?"

    Totally false analogy. It's true that most people don't know anything about how to use the OS. Many of them don't care. That's fine. But, we're NOT talking about the average user here, are we? We're talking about experienced people, often computer professionals, who willingly spread FUD about Linux "it's only as good as Windows 95" - yeah, maybe 5 years ago - without detailing their complaints. If I had jumped in here merely going "Vista sucks!!!", I would have been flamed and rightly so. Instead, I detailed the exact problem the put me off using Vista as well as noting that a different OS had not such issue.

    That's all we're asking for here. Alexio stated "After trying Xandros for some time, I am back with WinXP.". Well, fine, that's his choice. But the problem was that he extrapolated that into there being some kind of major problem with open source software as a whole. A more constructive and realistic comment would have been "After trying Xandros for some time, I was regularly having problem X or couldn't get my head round concept Y so i went back to WinXP".

    See the difference?

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