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), 23 Apr 2008 @ 1:16pm

    Bizarro world

    ...that's where Gates tends to live when it comes to relating to open source. These comments are a prime example.

    Want a great example of how open source improves things? Look no further than Internet Explorer. After IE6 was introduced, there were only bugfixes. No new features were added (though some 3rd party developers tried to). After several years of this, it was announced that Internet Explorer would no longer be available as a free, standalone product and would instead only be included with new versions of Windows.

    A year or so later, a new, standalone version of IE was released with extra features. What changed their minds? Firefox. An open source browser, free for not only anyone to improve directly but also to extend with their own separate extensions that didn't need Mozilla's approval. Hundreds of new features appeared - some borrowed from other sources, some unique. The basic browser as represented by IE was suddenly improved many-fold. Were there still problems? Of course. But the overall product was generally more secure, more stable and with many more features

    So, proprietary methods caused Microsoft to give up adding new features to IE, open source forced them to compete. That's the real lesson for the pharmaceutical companies but they won't get the truth from Microsoft.

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