In a speech before the World Economic Forum in Switzerland this week, mega-billionaire Bill Gates is calling for a “creative capitalism” in which businesses build and target products for poorer nations.
Question for Bill: Like Linux and open source software, which has been widely embraced by less affluent nations because of its lack of pricetag and low barrier to entry?
In a Wall Street Journal interview, Microsoft Chairman Gates – who will give up his day-to-day duties at Microsoft this summer – cited the increasing disparity between the rich and poor as evidence of a failing capitalism and called upon business to make profits while also improving the “lives for those who don't fully benefit from market forces," Gates will say, according to the Journal.
Question for Bill: Does he mean companies like Canonical, whose popular Ubuntu Linux distribution got its start in Africa and is now spreading like wildfire? Is he referring to the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) foundation, spearheaded by MIT's Negroponte, whose $100 laptop runs XO, a free and open source operating system?
Is Gates ia secret admirer of open source? After all, he is the world’s richest man whose company found guilty of monopolistic practices, very restrictive in its licensing practices and not known for its benevolence. Even today, Microsoft, which until fairly recently denounced the concept of open source software, is pushing the most premium (and most expensive) editions of its latest Windows operating system to the paying masses. Businesses can’t even get Vista Enterprise unless they pay into its Software Assurance maintenance plan.
The Free Software Foundation and many other open source backers like Richard Stallman and Eben Moglen – hold that software is a utility that must be kept open to prevent corporate ownership of information. This is essential to slowing the growing economic disparity between nations and people. The General Public License is just that -- a license which protects and conveys software rights to the general public. It's true that Microsoft has backed off its campaign against open source and has agreed to make its software at least interoperable with Linux. But its software is still proprietary.
Still, there's no doubt that Gates has donated a massive sum from the Microsoft bank to help curb world diseases and his $33 billion foundation -- founded with his wife, Melinda -- will do more good works. I wouldn't expect Microsoft to start pitching Linux and open source software but it is noteworthy that Gates was the key driver of the PC revolution, which introduced the concept of low cost personal computing to the masses. It’s not like IBM was paving the road ahead in those early days.