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What is Bill Gates Learning From Open Source? 194

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the how-to-love-the-bomb dept.
christian.einfeldt writes "In the world of Free Open Source Software communities, Microsoft is often viewed as the very epitome of the Cathedral-style model of software production. But is Bill Gates learning from the software development phenomenon that he once compared loosely to communism? In commenting on the results of a Microsoft-commissioned survey of approximately 500 board-level executives about the importance of interpersonal skills versus raw IT coding skills, Gates starts to sound a bit more like a member of the Apache Foundation than the take-no-prisoners king of cut-throat competition: 'Software innovation, like almost every other kind of innovation, requires the ability to collaborate and share ideas with other people, and to sit down and talk with customers and get their feedback and understand their needs.'."
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What is Bill Gates Learning From Open Source?

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  • by rainhill (86347) <[2rainyhill] [at] [gmail.com]> on Saturday December 15, 2007 @10:17AM (#21708080)
    People misunderstood him, the BigBill always was for sharing, except that he always liked to be on the receiving end.
  • by gilesjuk (604902) <.giles.jones. .at. .zen.co.uk.> on Saturday December 15, 2007 @10:17AM (#21708082)
    It's Ballmer who sounds off about the competition. Ballmer is probably a very good executive and businessman, but he's not visionary and he also doesn't hold back when giving his opinion. His opinion is very tabloid like.

    Bill seems to be careful to base his opinions on fact and not overstate things.
  • Our new overlords (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mangu (126918) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @10:19AM (#21708106)

    In the survey of approximately 500 board-level executives, 61 percent said interpersonal and teamworking skills were more important than IT skills.

    Perhaps for board-level managing, but certainly not for doing IT jobs. That's a big problem in corporations when you get "professional" managers. In the old days top-level managers were usually people who had risen from factory jobs. They understood what made the business tick.


    Enter the business schools. Managers start believing they can command any corporation without understanding how the production works. They start doing things like transplanting a CEO from Pepsi to Apple. Dismal results.


    I, for one, do *NOT* welcome our new board-level executive overlords!

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @10:31AM (#21708172)
    Ignore what they say, observe what they do.
  • by gznork26 (1195943) <gznork26@gma i l . c om> on Saturday December 15, 2007 @10:50AM (#21708286) Homepage
    Microsoft is all about increasing revenues. If they've saturated the market to their satisfaction, or have begun to lose traction with one class of product, such as Office apps, they move on to another. I'd translate Chairman Bill's comments to mean that he smells money in collaboration software. SharePoint is just one way to dredge that channel. Watch for others.

    * * *

    The latest story in my series about a company imprisoned for theft addresses the sham called a financial system. Read "Bank Shot" here:

    http://klurgsheld.wordpress.com/2007/12/12/short-story-bank-shot/ [wordpress.com]

  • Re:That's easy ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oyenstikker (536040) <slashdot@sb[ ]e.org ['yrn' in gap]> on Saturday December 15, 2007 @10:51AM (#21708290) Homepage Journal
    The code may be closed, but the standards are open. Google uses properly formed HTML and CSS. Google uses IMAP. Google uses XMPP. Google releases their applications for multiple platforms. Google does not use broken or undocumented formats to force you to use their products.
  • by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Saturday December 15, 2007 @10:57AM (#21708334) Homepage Journal
    I've yet to work for a company that didn't dismiss or downplay the products and actions of competitors. One thing that, occasionally, happens at Microsoft is they have a management decree for everyone to pull their head out of the sand and deal with a threat.. but it doesn't happen often enough, at Microsoft or anywhere.

  • Re:That's easy ... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Renegade88 (874837) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:00AM (#21708356)
    Google uses properly formed HTML?

    Have you actually ever validated their pages? Here's the english version of the Google/Firefox start page:

    http://www.google.com/firefox?client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official [google.com]

    Run that through the W3C markup validation service. I did and it fails to validate due to 54 errors. Don't give Google credit when they don't earn it.
  • by lattyware (934246) <gareth@lattyware.co.uk> on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:05AM (#21708384) Homepage Journal
    Plenty, although that wasn't what I said. I said they had not learned much from OSS. If Vista was faster, had a package manager, and was free, then they would be getting somewhere.
    As to what is wrong with Vista, the fact that Portal plays more reliably under WINE than Vista does say something (the Vista nVidia drivers crash every 10 seconds with any Source-based game, it seems.)
    But yeah, it's not particularly that Vista is terrible (although it is pretty bad, I'd say XP is the best thing M$ put out), more that Linux distros offer so much more, and are free, so why the hell would I pay to use something worse (and then pay for all of the software I need too!)?
  • by webmaster404 (1148909) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:12AM (#21708430)
    Yes, When Bill Gates was the head of MS, things were O.K. (just forget about ME for a second) there was little about DRM, and for most of the time, they actually somewhat innovated (or at least stole from Mac which innovated) things and and brought the world of the GUI to the cheap IBM PC. There was no competition because until 1991, and even then, Linux wasn't ready for the real world, in around 2003 with the 2.6 kernel, Linux posed a huge threat to MS. However from 2000-present, MS has been rapidly shooting itself in the foot with missed opportunities, disasters such as Vista, and falling to DRM. Steve Ballmer seems to be much more for DRM then Gates ever was, all Gates wanted to do was make some cash and make the computer easy to use, the same vision as Apple. However Ballmer wanted to make money at all costs and that meant taking out all competition and throwing us into this DRMed world which we hate.
  • by jkrise (535370) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:12AM (#21708434) Journal
    Rather than going by Gates' utterings; we must examine what he has DONE after Open source succeeded despite Microsoft's best efforts at side-tracking it.

    1. His departure from the Chairman post indicates very troubled times ahed for his company; and he is reluctant to be associated with a declining company that even customers speak poorly about. This is largely due to the influx of open source and more recently, open standards.

    2. The features removed; the h/w requirements; broken s/w compatibility etc. in Vista shows that ignoring the merits of Open Source will only hurt his company even more. The fact that he has not learnt the lessons and abandoned Vista; and continues to brazen it out indicates he does not want to hear the truth... only self-sponsored eulogies from 'independent studies'.

    3a. One of the biggest reasons for the success of the Windows platform has been that developers have been attracted to the commodity stuff so that everyone could win. Despite Gates' best efforts, Java and PHP have built up a commendable market-share; while after being bitten badly by the abandonment of VB, Foxpro etc.; developers are extremely cagey of adopting to .Net. Career-wise, it makes more sense for developers to stick to Java, PHP or even RubyonRails because they need not refresh their skills every 2 years or face extinction / pink slips.

    3b. The loss of the developer community will pave the way for eventual collapse of the flawed Upgrade-And-We-Will-Solve-Your-Problems approach which has been Microsoft's business model for well over 2 decades.

    4. For home users, the only hassle is getting broadband on Linux. Like Google, Linux has spread like wildfire by word-of-mouth; and even longtime friends of MS such as Dell, HP etc. have had to listen to customers and offer Linux bundles. The arrival of small form factor PCs like the OLPC, the XO laptop, the Asus EEE PC on Linux is further accelerating the success of Open source and the downfall of Windows. Microsoft is seeking to delay this by offering XP on these systems; but since long term avblty of XP is a question mark, OEMs, costomers or shareholders aren't very enthused.

    All in all, Mr. William Gates has learnt his lessons well in advance; and as Eben Moglen remarked while launching GPL3; this is the beginning of the end for proprietary code.
  • by TW Atwater (1145245) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:27AM (#21708554)
    Bill Gates talking about software innovation is like George Bush talking about good government.
  • by Grampaw Willie (631616) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @11:41AM (#21708652) Homepage
    Gates ain't no visionary, tee hee ya got that right

    he bought DOS from Tim Patterson and sold it to IBM

    he stole the X-window graphic interface design from XEROX/PaloAlto Research Park (if I remember right) and sold it as "Windows"

    and now I find out he hadda have his internet planning added to his visions book retroactively. did he have Al Gore ghost write it for him ( tee hee )

    and his most famous quote "64k ought to be enough for anybody"

    No, Gates is definitely NOT a visionary.

    what Gates IS ...is a marketing guy.

    and marketing guys operate by manipulating your perceptions. selling the king new clothes

    what really have we got from Windows?

    + a 1 GB RAM computer with 1 GHZ processor still can't do what an IBM/AT could do using 1 MB ram and 12 MHZ processor remember: Lotus-1-2-3 and WordPerfect were just as effective for must use as Excel and Word running on MS/Vista. And a copy of Procomm+ gave you all the commo you needed.

    + a 1 MB/sec network connection cannot bring you communications as well as an old USR 9600 dual standard modem. the reason being: too much marketing fluff is sent with the info

    + CompuServe was a very good information exchange, the WWW has degraded into an advertising and market research forum

    the one thing that Gates & Ms have truly excelled at however is: obsoleting your existing computer assuring a continued ( if forced ) demand for upgraded processors and software.

    but Gates learned that at GM
  • by wan-fu (746576) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @12:49PM (#21709110)
    I think for Bill Gates, there are multiple ways to view open source. I'm pretty he doesn't find the idea of open source repulsive and I'm sure he understands there are many things to be learned from how OSS is developed, how communities are built around the software, etc. These are things he doesn't view as a threat to Microsoft but are things that he probably feels the company can learn from. After all, all engineers like learning new methods and understanding processes.

    So what is it about OSS that Bill Gates dislikes so much? The business model. OSS threatens Microsoft via its business model and this is what he actively attempts to show as inferior to the closed-source way of doing things.

    I think once this distinction between business model and engineering are taken into account, his views are relatively easy to understand.
  • That's simple (Score:4, Insightful)

    by HalAtWork (926717) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @12:59PM (#21709210)
    They promote OSS at every turn. All of their APIs are open and documented. They use open formats and open protocols whenever they can. They release application frameworks for others to use to build applications that play nice with OSS. They release applications across all platforms, actually supporting versions of their software that work on OSS platforms and with OSS software. But to retain the attention of users, they choose to keep some of their solutions as proprietary, but they are ones they maintain themselves. You want them to open source their search engine, but the only reason their search engine is successful is because of their constant tweaking and additions in their specific way, and users still use their search engine without problems. OSS can interface with their search engine if they want to leverage its benefits.

    How could OSS really benefit from Google open sourcing their search engine? By publicizing the inner workings of their main asset, it would divert attention away from google. Google supporting OSS in the ways that they do wouldn't matter so much anymore if nobody was paying attention to them. If everyone had what made Google unique, then others could get the attention Google deserved but put it to a use that may not be leaning towards OSS so much, and then OSS wouldn't be as much of a benefit anymore. It serves Linux well because an OS is something every computer needs, but a search engine doesn't need to be run by anyone, and Google seem to be doing a good job. It's not like there aren't any OSS search solutions. But OSS seems to be benefiting as much from Google as the other way around.

    Don't you think Google is giving something back to the OSS community just by standing as a viable example of people using OSS in a commercial environment? Don't you think that buys OSS credibility? They run on Linux, they are putting a lot of force behind Firefox, and all the other stuff I mentioned above.

    What exactly do you want Google to do, and how do you think it would actually benefit OSS in reality more than what they are doing now? You're really unhappy about the current scenario?
  • by Ugmo (36922) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @01:45PM (#21709586)

    However from 2000-present, MS has been rapidly shooting itself in the foot with missed opportunities, disasters such as Vista, and falling to DRM. Steve Ballmer seems to be much more for DRM then Gates ever was, all Gates wanted to do was make some cash and make the computer easy to use, the same vision as Apple.

    I think it was the book Innovator's Dilemma or it might have been some other management or business book, that said that a company listens to its customers, becomes successful and grows. Then there comes a point when the company keeps listening to its customers but the customers are giving it bad advice, along the lines of, "more of the same, but bigger or faster and throw in this". The product outgrows certain niches or is customized too much for a subset of large customers. At this point smaller companies with a different way of ding things can squeeze into the cracks answering the needs of the customers left behind. Using this as a base, the new companies grow and kill off the old company.

    This applies to Microsoft if you understand who their customers are: other businesses, not consumers. All their decisions make sense if you understand that fact. Each new OS requires (not takes advantage of, but requires) larger hard drives, more memory and faster processors. Like Vista , all the previous OS versions required an upgrade to use, by design. This keeps Dell, Gateway etc happy as people throw out their old PC and buy a brand new one. If the consumer was Microsoft's customer they would be finding ways to write more efficient code that runs faster on existing hardware. As hardware advances, that code would become even faster instead of the situation we have now, where each new version of an application on faster and faster hardware delivers roughly the same word processing performance.

    DRM is the same. The customer is not the consumer who would like to watch movies or listen to music with his computer. The customer is Hollywood and the RIAA. Microsoft listens to them. They say: "Find us a way to charge the consumer every time he listens to a song and we will give you a cut of the income." The consumer says: "Find me a way to make it easy to organize and listen to the large collection of CD's and albums I have collected and paid for over the years". Microsoft says, "Where's my cut?" to the consumer and then listens to the RIAA instead.

    The third major customer is businesses or governments. In this case Microsoft is not trying to keep the business or government as a whole happy, they are cutting deals with the decision makers to preserve their monopoly. The citizens of a country will be better off if their government uses open file standards but this will threaten Microsoft Office's monopoly. Government employees get kickbacks, sweetheart deals and job offers from Microsoft in order to get them to choose Microsoft's products over what is in the ultimate customer, the citizen's, best interest.

    The same thing happens in businesses where Microsoft cuts deals with other companies in return for stock, investment or the promise of future acquisition. It would really be in the companies interest to use a free OS like Linux or an alternative file format for music or movies but Microsoft cuts deals with individuals in management that screw over the business in the long term. The managers who sign the deals don't give a crap. They are getting their pay off down the road. See all the companies that signed up for Fair Play, or whoever was behind SCO or the hundreds of other instances that show up daily on Slashdot.

    Remember that fact: You are not Microsoft's customer.They do not care about you.. Remember that and all their decisions make sense. Their customers are the memory, disk drive and PC manufacturers, the content providers and any other business they can cut a deal with and sell you down the river for. This is not a Ballmer thing. This has been going on s

  • by mysticgoat (582871) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @02:20PM (#21709818) Homepage Journal

    I'm having trouble remembering the last time I saw a lead Microsoft developer:

    * Give a presentation featuring a "Fuck You" slide,
    * Get indicted for killing his wife,
    * Call his rivals idiots,
    • At Microsoft, it is the CEO who says "fuck you".
    • At Microsoft, it is the CEO who threatens to murder people. Possibly his claim that he has done so before is true... there was an odd death by ingestion of antifreeze which has not been satisfactorily investigated.
    • At Microsoft, only the CEO and his designated marketdroids are allowed to use such language in public.

    So. Yeah. At the lead developer level, Microsoft might be reasonably civilized. That behavior does not extend up the ladder. So Microsoft might possibly be cured of its problems without affecting its software expertise with a simple headectomy.

  • Re:That's easy ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ScrewMaster (602015) on Saturday December 15, 2007 @04:49PM (#21711174)
    No, you're wrong. Microsoft's "evil", insofar as I'm concerned, has to do with the companies and technologies that never had a chance because someone at Microsoft decided to steal it, buy it or just destroy it. That someone was often William H. Gates. The Personal Computer Revolution was largely stolen from us, because we all got forced to go the Redmond way.

    There's no point in going over Microsoft's other evils, such as the fact that it is a Grade-A government-certified illegally acquired-and-maintained monopoly. Now, monopolies aren't necessarily evil or illegal ... but Microsoft's is, on both counts. And don't try to excuse them as just being, you know, basically decent people who make honest mistakes. Microsoft is a criminal organization that has maintained a consistent pattern of unlawful activity throughout its entire corporate existence.

    And so far as Apple and Google are concerned, it sounds like you're excusing Microsoft's bad behavior because well, you know, Apple and Google might be as bad, but we don't know yet so let's give Microsoft a pass for now. Look nobody knows whether we are alone in the Universe ... but the question of whether that company is good or evil has been answered. They were taken to court over the issue of their monopoly status and lost.

    So yeah, Microsoft is evil, and the pattern of general nastiness persists to this very day. Why do you think the European Union is giving them such a hard time? Have you been following the OOXML fiasco, with Microsoft attempting to buy their way into a standard? No, I suggest you keep Googling Microsoft: it's obvious you've not been around long enough to have experienced their evil firsthand. I've been in the software business since before Microsoft was a gleam in Bill Gates' eye, and I've seen the damage he and his brainchild have caused.

    Bill can give all his money to charity if he wants, but there's no Undo button for what he's done.

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