During his conversation with Richard A. Newton, the Dean of the College of Engineering, at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall on Friday morning, Bill Gates made an incorrect statement about the GPL.
Here are the exact words spoken by Bill Gates that day (watch this video, starting about 40% of the way in):
There's this virtuous cycle, that there's lots of free software that often comes out of the universities; sometimes that just generates more free software; sometimes it generates companies and jobs that then pay taxes and that money, uh, goes back to the unversity to keep this ecosystem going. And that ecosystem that the U. S. has is the envy of the world.
The GPL, in our view, should be used — which is the license that says you can't enhance it and create a commercial product — our view is that should be used very narrowly, and we think people should think twice — so if you have government-funded research, it's ironic that, then if it goes into that GPL, you can't create a company that creates jobs that pays taxes, and so most of the countries outside the U. S. have stayed away from that because they want to get the ecosystem that we have.
The GPL does not say anything forbidding the creation of a derivative commercial product. The statement by Bill Gates to that effect is false. Moreover, there are real examples of companies based on GPL products that create jobs and pay taxes — ever heard of Red Hat?
After the event, Microsoft Developer Evangelists Mark Hammond and Keen Browne engaged me and several other Berkeley students in a discussion. They said their job was to keep the lines of communication open between the outside world and the people at Microsoft, many of whom do have real concerns about the ethical standards and civic responsibility of the company. They claimed that Microsoft sincerely wants to listen to the outside community to learn how it can do better.
Here is one way Microsoft can do better. Bill Gates, if you wish to demonstrate your good faith, then uphold the truth about your company and your competitors. Issue a public correction of the erroneous statement you made on Friday October 1 at Zellerbach Hall.
The open source movement may be one of the best things that has ever happened to your company. The competition has spurred your developers to improve its products. So, if you believe in making the best products, don't make misleading statements about your competitors. Instead, compete.
Update: This has been mentioned on cheesebikini.