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
    chris (profile), 23 Apr 2008 @ 1:50pm

    Re: BUT..

    to me that is like saying.. Here use our LCD projectors for free as long as all your confidential business strategies even shown on it are posted to YouTube.

    Has this ever been fixed in the GPL so you can keep your improvements to yourself?


    hell no it wasn't "fixed". it was never broken to begin with. nice attempt at FUD, but it falls short.

    first of all, if you use GPL tools (the projector in your analogy) to create proprietary software you can fully keep the code to yourself so long as the proprietary product (your confidential business strategy in your analogy) contains no GPL code and doesn't link to and doesn't link to GPL libraries.

    GPL is not just another name for open source. the GPL is one very strict open source license, but there are plenty of other open source licenses with fewer restrictions.

    all GPL'd software is open source, but not all open source software is GPL'd. there are many open source licenses that are NOT compatible with the GPL, like the BSD license and the mozilla license. you can use lots of open source licensed code without giving changes back, just not GPL code.

    AND, you can make all the changes you want to GPL code as long as you don't distribute (release/sell) the modified code. if you are a for profit company and you modify something and only use it internally or only use it as a service on your website you can charge all you want and not release the changes.

    using GPL code in a proprietary product would be like modifying the linux kernel for your proprietary architecture not making the modifications to the kernel available under the GPL. there is nothing in the GPL that says you can't sell the software, you just have to make the source available too.

    using GPL tools to create proprietary products that you sell is fine, using modified GPL code internally in a for profit corporation is fine, and using modified GPL code to provide a fee based service is fine, selling or otherwise distributing the modified code without giving the changes back is not fine.

    that is the "viral nature" lie that MS has been spreading for a couple of years now, the myth that if your product touches GPL software it somehow automatically becomes GPL too. it's a lie, plain and simple.

    if you want to take open source code and sell a proprietary product without sharing your changes, you are perfectly free to do so, you just have to use code with a different license than the GPL, like the BSD license, apache, mozilla, etc.

    secondly, linksys still makes routers with linux since there is such a huge enthusiast market. that's the difference between the WRT54g and the WRT54GS/GL. people buy the linux versions and flash custom firmware on them. i recommend openWRT.

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