Bill Hilf: Free Software Movement Is Dead

by Bharat Suneja

This may add a lot of fuel to the platforms (Windows v/s Open Source and Almost Open Source But Never Free) debate, and will certainly balloon into a controversy of interesting proportions.

Bill Hilf, Microsoft’s GM of Platform Strategy, said in a recent interview in Bangkok: “The Free Software movement is dead. Linux doesn’t exist in 2007. Even Linus has got a job today.”

Most Linux customers run a distribution – Redhat, Novell, Suse, or Mandiva. Most of the work done on maintaining the Linux kernel is done by developers working for these distributions. They are full-time employees, with 401K (and) stock options. What does it mean? It means that Linux doesn’t exist any more in 2007. There is no free software movement. If someone says Linux is about Love, Peace and Harmony, I would tell them to do their research. There is no free movement any more. There is big commercial [firms] like IBM and there is small commerical [firms] like Ubuntu.

Why should one listen to this guy? Before he joined Microsoft, Hilf led IBM’s Linux/Open Source technical strategy worldwide. Seems like he would know a thing or two about open source. :)

Read the complete interview – Microsoft director out to ‘debunk mythology around open source’ – on Bangkok Post’s web site.

Personally, I find the terms “Open Source” and “Free Software” amusing. It’s another branding war that Microsoft did not make any serious efforts to win. Free software is anything but free, at least for the wide majority of business users. Wait, I’m trying not to get drawn into this debate myself. It’s an endless one.

In related news, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith revealed to FORTUNE magainze that free software like Linux violates 235 of its patents.

Interestingly, Eben Moglen, longtime counsel to the Free Software Foundation says – software is a mathematical algorithm and, as such, not patentable. It’s one thing to say the current (software) patents regime is a tad overdone, but to suggest that software cannot be patented at all – that leaves me in incredulous disbelief!

The world just became a lot more interesting place to live in. Let the rants begin.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous May 16, 2007 at 8:14 am

It’s a little bit too early to talk about “Free Software is dead” as it may be to talk about “Microsoft is dead”. Don’t reduce Linux and/or the idea of free software to the distributors – they may employ programmers who write open source code, but the code remains open source. That is the key difference. You may use open source software under GPL, or MPL, or BSD license, that may be the point. I believe that Microsoft has the advantage to be able to build perfect fitting systems with streamlined UIs a.s.o., in opposite to a bunch of disparate components sometimes very complex to integrate in the linux world. MS has one Exchange with all the components of a modern messaging system, while in Linux systems you have many project, composed of different MTAs, POP3/IMAP servers and so on. I believe the future may be a way like Apple went with Mac OS X: use the community’s power and pick the best of it all and integrate it into a system that has a great usabiltity… This is because the complexity for example of Vista or Windows Server 2008 (aka Longhorn Server) is reaching its’ limit…
h.b. (please correct my grammar errors etc. – I’m no native speaker…)


Bharat Suneja May 16, 2007 at 9:08 am

I agree, I don’t think either is dead. Those are just 2 different paths – as always, the markets will decide which ones stay and prosper over a period, and which ones are driven into extinction. Both can and do co-exist.

The post reports on what Bill Hilf said and Microsoft’s recent patent infringement claim.



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