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Torvalds blasts Microsoft's Mundie on open source

Linux developer Linus Torvalds says Microsoft executive Craig Mundie seized upon the hard times for technical companies to try to score points against the open source code movement.

"Not worth the newspaper it's been printed on," retorted Linus Torvalds, Linux developer, in response to the charges made by Craig Mundie, Microsoft's senior vice president, that there are "significant drawbacks" to open source code.

Torvalds said Mundie had seized upon the hard times for technical companies to try to score points against the open source code movement. Near the top of his speech, Torvalds noted, Mundie declared, "It's important that we learn from the lessons of the past year and apply them." Mundie went on to note that many of the failed dot-com companies had given something away in hopes of making money on auxiliary products and services. Open source code is the freely shared output of developers, and open source companies charge only for their packaging and value-added additions.

"He's talking about the need to protect intellectual property, when the code he's describing isn't his intellectual property to protect. How does it cause Microsoft to fail if I make my intellectual property available to everyone, including Microsoft?" Torvalds asked during a visit Thursday, May 10, to Interactive Week's offices in San Francisco.

Mundie later in his speech charged that open source code, which is often offered under the General Public License, "poses a threat to the intellectual property of any organization making use of it." He based the charge on the requirement that a company using GPL-licensed open source code must share its modifications and improvements to the code. Such a provision "fundamentally undermines the independent commercial software sector," Mundie asserted.

"That argument is so much crap," Torvalds said, shrugging off Mundie's comments when asked about them.

Mundie is trying to characterize open source code as a failed business model at a time when many young Internet companies have failed, Torvalds noted. But many successful companies use open source code, and it may have contributed to their survival, he said. "There's a difference between a product and knowledge," Torvalds said. Open source code should be put in the tradition of sharing of information and intellectual freedom that has been practiced by Western science "since the time of the Greeks."

"You don't lose money by sharing knowledge, when the terms are that whoever you share with will share his knowledge back with you. You're in a stronger position," Torvalds said. University research is shared because its results must be reproducible by others if it is to gain the status of advancing learning. Open source code contributes to the fund of public knowledge by representing the work that has survived the competition and testing of many developers, he added.

"I see myself as a scientist. So I don't imagine I'll make a million dollars. Linux is never really going to be a rich sell," Torvalds said. But he believes Linux will earn a place as a building block of the Internet and in "building better products."

"That speech makes perfect sense to Microsoft," he added. "Bill Gates takes it for granted that Microsoft owns all the infrastructure that was built up, and on which Microsoft is based."

But Microsoft fails to acknowledge that science plays a key role in economic affairs. "The tradition of open science has done more to build the modern economy than Microsoft every will," Torvalds said.