Nobody Can Improve Open Source?

Via ars technica, via slashdot,

“There’s free software and then there’s open source,” he suggested, noting that Microsoft gives away its software in developing countries.

There’s free software, which is any software which has no monetary cost, and then there’s Free software which is any software which has liberty bundled with it. Microsoft does not give away liberty in developing countries. In fact, they don’t even allow liberty to exist in Norway if they can help it.

With open source software, on the other hand, “there is this thing called the GPL, which we disagree with.” Open source, he said, creates a license “so that nobody can ever improve the software,” he claimed, bemoaning the squandered opportunity for jobs and business. […]

The GPL actually provides the complete opposite and Mr. Gates knows this. The truth is that a million times a day someone using Windows punches their inner child while wishing they could change something about the operating system. Everything from the look of the windows to changing the file system to one that doesn’t require constant defragmentation.

With Windows you can’t do that without a lot of effort. With sanely written software that’s designed to be malleable (such as many Open Source projects) it’s second nature. And when there’s source available there’s an open market to pay people to make those changes for you.

He went back to the analogy of pharmaceuticals: “I think if you invent drugs, you should be able to charge for them,” he said, adding with a shrug: “That may seem radical.”

Of course you can charge for them. You can already charge for Open Source. The difference is that if you sell and distribute GPL software you’ve got to give them the source and the right to distribute that software. That doesn’t mean that you can’t customize the software for a company to give them a competitive edge. Just the opposite.

If software X can pump out 100 widgets a day by default and the company modifies it to pump out 200 widgets a day, they can make more widgets. Unless they’re distributing the software to third parties they can effectively keep those changes internally and benefit exclusively from them.

Google does this. They also do many things that are supportive of Open Source, but they modify the source internally and use it. If you don’t distribute the software to others you do not have to give them the source.

This is what Mr. Gates really disagrees with. His company is in the business of selling software to others. He doesn’t like the competition. If they can get a better, more customized application for free, or for free plus the cost of paying a developer to customize it, they won’t want to overpay for inferior software from Microsoft.

Sorry Mr. Gates, but it’s inferior because it can’t be customized. It’s inferior because it costs too much. It’s inferior because it’s encumbered by the inventor’s greed. You can sell your drugs, but increasingly you’ll find the people practicing preventative medicine, using Open Source to avoid the need for your “invented” anti-virus.


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