Open source = communism = innovation obstacle ?

Here we are: Bill Gates blew a fuse. In an interview with CNET, Bill was asked about intellectual property rights, of course in the light of recent developments in open source and music piracy. And here is what Bill said:

(…)There are fewer communists in the world today than there were. There are some new modern-day sort of communists who want to get rid of the incentive for musicians and moviemakers and software makers under various guises. They don’t think that those incentives should exist.

So, open source software development is in fact a subversive attack by die-hard communists. Adam Smith showed years ago that the capitalist system is based on the pursuit of self interest, and this self interest serves a social purpose for the greater good. But self interest doesn’t necessarily mean money only, and just because  there is no money to make doesn’t mean there will be no innovation, for several reasons.

First, because all studies show that innovators and entrepreneurs are not primarly driven by money, even though, of course, the perspective of cashing out at some point is clearly in the picture. Innovators can be driven by ego, the search for glory and fame, the desire to change the world, to impress their peers, to wield power and influence, or simply by the lifestyle of freedom and adrenaline. Just visit SourceForge, the repository of Open Source software development to see the amazing diversity and quality of the programs developed by people who don’t get a nickel for that. This proves that creativity and innovation are in no way hindered by the lack of revenue.
Second, because a significant amount of the world’s stockof innovation is produced by people who don’t get royalties from it: academics. Not that they do it for free (they get a salary at the end of the month) but some institution is paying them to produce knowledge and innovation and give it for free to the community. This works, and has been working for hundreds of years. Does Bill mean to say that academic institutions are rampant communist organizations?

The real reason why Bill is nervous is that, for the first time, Microsoft is under a disruptive attack, and Bill takes it very seriously, as he has always done. Open source is not just another competitor ready to be slaughtered by Redmond, but a radically new way to create software, based on a radically new business model. Denouncing the barbarians, by mixing open source with music piracy for instance, is a typical reaction of the incumbant firm caught sleeping by a disruptive attack, and at a loss as how to react.

While it is likely that incremental attacks against Microsoft, such as the FireFox browser, will fail, disruptive attacks such as Open Source will probably succeed. And THAT makes Bill nervous. Expect a fight.

The link to the interview : Bill Gates @ CNET

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