Gates' interoperability claim 'is nonsense'

Analyst group Ovum isn't convinced by Microsoft's latest weapon against Linux
Written by Ingrid Marson, Contributor

Bill Gates' claim that the open source methodology encourages forking was slated by one UK analyst on Monday.

Gary Barnett, a research director at analyst firm Ovum, wasn't impressed with Microsoft's latest weapon against Linux. "If open source opponents are reduced to using that argument, open source is doing very well," said Barnett.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said in an executive email late last week that implementing open source software could be expensive due to the cost of making incompatible applications work together.

"Open source is a methodology for licensing and/or developing software -- that may or may not be interoperable," said Gates. "Additionally, the open source development approach encourages the creation of many permutations of the same type of software application, which could add implementation and testing overhead to interoperability efforts."

But Barnett believes the risk of open source software forking is low as open source licences, such as the General Public License, ensure that companies must contribute changes back to the open source community.

"It is nonsense to say that open source software is more likely to produce variations," said Barnett. "The fact is that with GPL there is no direct monetary benefit to create forked versions. The same is true for other open source licences as well."

Open source developers are unlikely to create incompatible versions as there is no advantage, said Barnett, adding that an incompatible open source project is less likely to be adopted by users and less likely to be built on.

"What do you gain from developing incompatible versions?" said Barnett. "It's pretty silly of Bill Gates to assume that open source developers are so stupid -- it's absolute nonsense."

Interoperability appears to be Microsoft's latest weapon against Linux. Two weeks ago Nick McGrath, head of platform strategy at Microsoft, claimed that creating a standard version of Linux would be a "big challenge" and that there is better interoperability within Windows than any other platform.

Linux vendors Mandrakesoft and Red Hat rejected these claims. Gael Duval, co-founder of Mandrakesoft, said that although interoperability tends to be higher within a closed, proprietary system such as Windows, Linux is interoperable with other systems, which is an advantage for companies that have a mixed infrastructure.

Click here for an in-depth look at the issues surrounding forking.

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