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Gates: Free software and Linux are doomed

In the teeth of the evidence, Bill Gates continues to trot out the old Microsoft script

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Do we note some ominous undertones to Bill Gates damnation of Linux yesterday? Claiming that he saw Linux as having only a limited role in the future, Gates put forward the suggestion -- apparently as an example of why Linux wouldn't work in the long term -- that browsers had now become so sophisticated that they could no longer be developed in a "non-commercial" environment. Speaking to an audience in Houston, Texas, Gates said that the market for free software really just consists of simple programs, and that the day of the free browser knocked together by a few students is at an end. Browsers were indeed largely developed for free at first, and some of them still are. But Bill's right in that most of the market is now held by Internet Explorer and Netscape, both now developed by commercial organisations (pace Mozilla). In various pieces of testimony at the antitrust trial Microsoft argued that it had always been its intention to give away IE, but as IE is now part of Windows, pending further legal developments, yes, we suppose it has stopped being free really. Gates applies similar reasoning to Linux, and his point of view is easy to understand, even if you don't agree with it. Most users will continue to vote for Windows, he says, because it's a single product, with central testing and control. The complexity (Bill would no doubt rather use words like sophistication and integration) of this product is such that it's just not feasible for software developed by a diverse group of volunteers to match it. Of course it takes Bill to argue that Windows is a single product (we think we counted 14 existing and projected variants recently), and Microsoft's own internal documentation (Halloween) is ample evidence that the company is impressed by the speed of Linux development, testing and debugging. That very documentation admits Microsoft can't keep up with Linux development. What Gates is really saying is that he reckons the historical Microsoft strategy of building ever more complicated and intertwined software will continue to succeed. In the past this has had the effect of pricing rival software developers out of the market, and this process has been aided and abetted by Microsoft's ability to use control of the platform to change the rules -- thus undermining rival development efforts some more. But Microsoft now faces an operation that isn't damaged by Microsoft current control of the platform, whose development economics are not dependent on making as much money as Microsoft, and which is beginning to provide a serious challenge to the keystone of the whole lot -- Microsoft control of the platform. Maybe Bill should think about this, rather than carrying on believing the old stuff. ®

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