Bill G warns the 3rd World hoards of the dangers if free SW

Stewart Sinclair stewsinc at
Wed Apr 24 21:35:58 MDT 2002

There was a web site that carried the M$ message of the dangers of the GPL 
(General Public Licence or Copy Left) that turned out to be running on the 
free ware Apache web server on a freeBSD (UNIX) operating system.  When 
this was revealed the operators of the site switched to NT with IIS 
(Internet Information Server, the M$ offerings).  The site promptly crashed 
and they had to switch back to free ware.  The section below would be a bit 
of hoot if this guy weren't able to buy Presidents etc.

Gates: GPL will eat your economy, but BSD's cool
By John Lettice
Posted: 22/04/2002 at 16:19 GMT

Bill Gates took another shot at the Open Source question last week, and 
came up with some interesting new spin. Essentially, if your country 
standardises on Linux, then you're not going to have any IT jobs in your 
country, says Bill.

Gates was taking some pre-vetted (we presume) questions at last week's 
Government Leaders Conference in Seattle, and had been asked about the 
strengths and weaknesses associated with the adoption of Open Source in 
governments. He'd already taken a pop at this subject in his introduction, 
and given that the questions overall were fairly skewed in the direction of 
IT in developing countries, it does rather look like Microsoft had decided 
it was going to ram the message home hard to the people it sees as its 
future growth area.

Here's what he had to say in the keynote:

"One thing that we get people discussing with us a lot is how to create 
jobs around IT activity. And I think you will see some countries who really 
believe in the capitalistic approach; that is, that software should 
generate jobs, and government R&D should generate jobs, so that government 
R&D should be done on a basis that it can be commercialized.

"There's a faction against that, the so-called general GPL source license 
free software foundation, that says that these other countries other than 
the U.S. should devote R&D dollars in the so-called open approach, that 
means you can never commercialize that software. And it is an interesting 
choice to deny -- for a country to deny itself the benefits of these 
high-paying jobs and the kind of taxes that let countries fund their 
universities, and fund general research that then goes to renew that pool 
of commercial R&D. Clearly there's an ecosystem there that has worked 
extremely well in the United States, and has probably been the unique thing 
that has let that push forward. And there is now a recognition that it's 
really a question of policy of allowing the so-called capitalistic approach 
to win the day there."

Microsoft's view of the GPL as some kind of plague, virally infecting 
everything it touches, is well-known. The company has outlawed it in its 
licence agreements, described it as a cancer, communistic, un-American, and 
now here's Bill putting a spin on that last one for the benefit of the reps 
of developing economies attending GLC. You think it's attractive because 
it's cheap and flexible? Well, if you want to carry on living in the pre-IT 
age, just you go ahead.

In his answer, Bill kicks off by misunderstanding the point of open source, 
and then misrepresents the kind of source access Microsoft offers:

"Well, there are many different aspects here. One question is: Do you need 
the source code of an operating system as a user of that operating system? 
That is, should you be paying your people to study the intricacies of how 
the operating system is built and stuff like that? And the basic answer is 
no. That's something that for a few percent of the price of the PC you can 
buy a commercial operating system, where all the work of testing it, 
supporting it, delivering it, is included for a few percent of that price 
of the PC.

"For customers who want source code -- universities, large customers -- we 
provide that. But 90- some percent of that time, that's more a -- okay, 
it's nice, I have it, you know, should I ever need it. That's fair. So 
source availability is not the big issue. That's -- you have got source 
availability from us and others, and it's not much needed in any case."

Microsoft's source access programs are of course very limited, 'look but 
don't touch' affairs, but may have some utility in the sense that teams of 
college kids could wind up helping Microsoft figure out what some of the 
stuff actually does. Ex Intel VP Steve McGeady's testimony for the current 
trial for example describes an incident where a team from Intel and one 
from Microsoft had to expend considerable effort doing this to get Intel's 
Indeo to work. This was while they were on the same side.

But back at the podium, Bill is drawing a clear line between freedom and 
Marxist insurgents:

"Then you get to the issue of who is going to be the most innovative. You 
know, will it be capitalism, or will it be just people working at night? 
There's always been a free software world. And you should understand 
Microsoft thinks free software is a great thing. Software written in 
universities should be free software. But it shouldn't be GPL software. GPL 
software is like this thing called Linux, where you can never commercialize 
anything around it; that is, it always has to be free. And, you know, 
that's just a philosophy. Some said philosophy wasn't around much anymore, 
but it's still there. And so that's where we part company."

He does however have some good words to say about BSD, which seems to have 
been deemed by Microsoft to be the non-threatening alternative that can be 
allowed to live. Not least because it's esoteric enough for the 
transcribers of his speech to get it wrong every time:

"We say there should be an eco-system so something like VSB [BSD], which is 
a free form of UNIX, but it's not - -doesn't have this GPL with it, versus 
Linux which does -- there's a big contrast. A government can fund research 
work on BFP [BSD], UNIX, and still have commercial companies in their 
country start off around that type of work. You know, technology policies 
like biotech -- you only -- if your universities are doing work that can be 
commercialized, you will have IT jobs in your country. And if they are not, 
then fine, just say that farming is your thing, or whatever it is. All the 
taxes will be paid by those guys or something -- I don't know. And the 
farmers will go home at night and work on the source code. (Laughter.)"

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of BSD (ESB?), we accept, but Bill is 
kind of saying it's perfectly reasonable for governments and universities 
to work it and Unix. But we expect he'll be singing a different tune if 
they take him at his word. ®

Related Paranoia

Open source terror stalks Microsoft's lawyers
GPL Pacman will eat your business, warns Gates
How Young Gates did free software

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