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30th Anniversary of Gates' Letter to HCC 544

Posted by Zonk
from the perspective dept.
suso writes "30 years ago today, Bill Gates wrote the infamous Open Letter to Hobbyists about licensing of Altair BASIC to the Homebrew Computer Club. Looking back it's interesting to read this emotionally written document as it is probably Gate's first publicly written opinion about licensing software." From the letter: "The fact is, no one besides us has invested a lot of money in hobby software. We have written 6800 BASIC, and are writing 8080 APL and 6800 APL, but there is very little incentive to make this software available to hobbyists. Most directly, the thing you do is theft. What about the guys who re-sell Altair BASIC, aren't they making money on hobby software? Yes, but those who have been reported to us may lose in the end. They are the ones who give hobbyists a bad name, and should be kicked out of any club meeting they show up at."
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30th Anniversary of Gates' Letter to HCC

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  • Interesting to see that Bill Gates hasn't changed much in 30 years! He still hates casual software piracy; the only difference is now he has much more influence...
    • by jb.hl.com (782137) <joe.joe-baldwin@net> on Friday February 03, 2006 @10:44PM (#14639763) Homepage Journal
      He still hates casual software piracy; the only difference is now he has much more influence...

      This is a bad thing? I didn't realise software piracy was some kind of fundamental right. Nor did I realise that, you know, not liking software piracy made you some kind of bully.

      You didn't explicitly say that, no, but that's the impression I got.
      • OK, I'm not implying that software piracy is a good thing. If it's not free, then you should pay for it, to show respect to the people who worked hard to produce the software.
        But also, Bill Gates was definitely much rougher in the letter than he needed to be to get his point across, which is why it is difficult to feel sympathetic to his cause. The perception of him as a "bully" is mostly because of the tone of the letter.
        • by Saanvik (155780) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @12:47AM (#14640174) Homepage Journal
          I remember the time when this letter was written and although I don't agree with his position, I think the tone of his letter was appropriate.

          At the time nobody took seriously the idea that someone should be paid for software. We didn't pay for what was on the disk, we paid for the disk. Once we owned the disk, we felt anything on it was ours. The position of people like Bill Gates was very different, and he had to make a strong statement to get his point across.

    • by slashdotnickname (882178) on Friday February 03, 2006 @11:34PM (#14639918)
      Interesting to see that Bill Gates hasn't changed much in 30 years! He still hates casual software piracy; the only difference is now he has much more influence...

      Difference to whom?

      Him? No, he believes in software ownership, and always has.

      You? Probably yes, because pirating software nowadays can have more negative consequences than it use too... especially because software/technology producers have more influence today.

      Personally, I find supporting open-source software much more rewarding than downloading a pirated copy of whatever. For starters, there's a lot of excellent OSS out there nowadays and participating in it, even if only as a user, helps it mature further. Plus, I believe that if someone wants you to pay for something they've created (or bought the rights too) then you must respect their wishes.

      IMO, pirated software is for chumps. If you want a particular piece of retail software, then pay for it, otherwise grow some balls and support OSS... but please don't support pirating software and OSS too, it does neither camps of opinion any good.

  • It's true! (Score:5, Funny)

    by PhineusJWhoopee (926130) on Friday February 03, 2006 @09:46PM (#14639483)
    Since there was no incentive for Micro-Soft to write good software, they haven't since that time.
     
    ed
    That's a joke, son.
  • It is true! (Score:4, Funny)

    by wo1verin3 (473094) on Friday February 03, 2006 @09:46PM (#14639488) Homepage
    One thing you do do is prevent good software from being written.

    Well it looks like Gates was right when it comes to MS software. Damn those hobbyists....
  • by Big Jojo (50231) on Friday February 03, 2006 @09:46PM (#14639489)

    Odd how Bill Gates doesn't really like to tell the side of the story where he stole PDP-10 time from a Seattle company (which went out of business), one of the Universities in Seattle (which kicked him and Paul Allen out when they found out about it), and even Harvard University.

    Yes, the PDP-10 time used to run 8080 simulators. Used to write that initial Basic interpreter ... stolen.

    Pot. Kettle. Black.

    • That's true. What's more, stealing computer time was arguably much worse than stealing Gates' software since copying costs nobody anything.
    • Your argument is based on a logical fallacy known as ad hominem [wikipedia.org]. Some examples of other such arguments (from Wikipedia that I linked):
      • "You claim that this man is innocent, but you cannot be trusted since you are a criminal as well."
      • "You feel that abortion should be legal, but I disagree because you are uneducated and poor."
      • "He's physically addicted to nicotine. Of course he defends smoking!"
      • "Tobacco company representatives are wrong when they say smoking doesn't seriously affect your health, because t
      • by Zork the Almighty (599344) on Friday February 03, 2006 @10:20PM (#14639667) Journal
        That would be a nice form post (especially on slashdot), except in this case Bill Gates' argument is intimately tied to him. He argues about how his company has made an investment and deserves renumeration. When $40,000 of that investment is in fact stolen from someone else, why does he deserve to be paid ?
        • by luvirini (753157) on Friday February 03, 2006 @10:52PM (#14639799)
          Because successfull thiefs have a tendency to become nobles.. worked in the middleages.. works now.
        • His argument is not tied to him at all. You thinking of it that way is simply forgetting the distinction between one's actions and one's argument. They are not related. As another said:

          Being a hypocrite does not affect the merit of his argument. Claiming it does is a kind of logical fallacy in the ad hominem class, specifically the tu quoque ("you too") ad hominem.

          For example, say I kill somebody. I later say that murder is immoral. Does that make me a hypocrite? Yes. Does my hypocrisy invalidate my
          • by Zork the Almighty (599344) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @01:52AM (#14640353) Journal
            This is starting to get bland and pedantic, but there is a distinction to be made. In Gates' letter he makes two arguments. One is the general argument that developers deserve to get paid ("What hobbyist can put 3-man years into programming, finding all bugs, documenting his product and distribute for free?"), and the other is that he specifically deserves to be paid ("The value of the computer time we have used exceeds $40,000."). Maybe we are talking about two different things ? I think the fact that he stole that $40,000 of computer time invalidates the latter. His general argument still stands. I even supported it in a another post.
        • by jdavidb (449077) * on Saturday February 04, 2006 @01:33AM (#14640299) Homepage Journal

          He argues about how his company has made an investment and deserves renumeration.

          All right, leaving ad hominem attacks aside for the benefit of those who commented about that previously, let's point out the fallacy in the argument, independent of Gates' character:

          Just because you make an investment does not mean that you "deserve" remuneration, at least not in any meaningful sense that creates an obligation in anyone else. My dad, for example, invested in several stocks of companies that went belly up. While we can argue that he "deserved" remuneration because of his investment (after all, think of the children! which at the time would have been me and my brother), the fact is that his stocks turned into toilet paper, and his investment didn't somehow create a magic obligation on the part of the public to see to it that he got his "remuneration" regardless of whether or not there were an actual market for what the company did.

          So, if nobody wants what you're selling, you may "deserve" to recoup your investment, but nobody is obligated to give it to you. I further contend that in that case it's not right to try to manipulate the market through coercive laws in order to _make_ a market that gives you your "deserved" "remuneration."

      • by bunratty (545641) on Friday February 03, 2006 @10:21PM (#14639676)
        If the OP were arguing that the hobbyists were not stealing, yes, that would be an ad hominem argument. His point, however, is that Bill Gates is a hypocrite. The fact that he himself stole, to develop the very product he was pointing out others should not steal, makes him one.
        • His point, however, is that Bill Gates is a hypocrite. The fact that he himself stole, to develop the very product he was pointing out others should not steal, makes him one.

          This doesn't mean he's a hypocrit today. People shouldnt be judged o some emotioned rambling of X many years ago when they were in their early twenties.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        "Your argument is based on a logical fallacy known as ad hominem."

        The OP didn't challenge the Gate's argument. He implied that gates is a hypocrite
        and his allegory, if true, substantiates and validates that claim.

        To redeem yourself, please tell us which logical fallacy did your argument use?
        Was it argumentum astroturfus by any chance?
      • These are not all argumentum ad hominem. Only your second example is argumentum ad hominem.
      • by IgnoramusMaximus (692000) on Friday February 03, 2006 @10:32PM (#14639715)
        Would you like to reply to his actual argument instead of just attacking the man?

        His actual argument, like all those wishing to own and trade "intellectual property" disintegrates upon the examination of what it is that they wish to trade and then accuse others of stealing. Information is not, under any possible definition that can withstand even a most cursory test of logic, an object which can be traded. All principles of mercantile trade and also that of capitalism which is built on that trade are constructed upon the premise that the only things valid for trade are either physical (private property) or labour. An attemt to use law to redefine esoterical thought representations and large numbers into physical objects are not only morally repugnant but also a dire warning, a clear demonstration that the legal system is dangerously out of control and no longer subject to rules of decency and logic.

        That is also a wholly independent and separate issue of that of how to reward artists and inventors for their creative works. To which a question many answers exist which do not require a totalitarian regime and a wholesale crippling of our freedoms to accomplish. However those who are enemies of those freedoms as they see them in the way of their boundless greed and therefore those who our mortal enemies, enemies of the human kind, enemies like Bill Gates or the so-called "music industry", would stop at nothing in order to use perversions of law to reap "rewards" so out of proportion with their contributions that soon their fortunes exceed that of 99% of their fellow citizens individually and probably good 30% of global population combined. There is no possible justification for that state of affairs, other then out-of control rule of greed and wholesale subjegations of law and the society to it.

      • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Friday February 03, 2006 @10:32PM (#14639721) Homepage Journal
        The person making the argument is a completely irrelevant aspect of the argument itself.

        That's true only in a very limited sense. Logicians love to quote clear examples of logical and then claim that their examples apply to real arguments (ironically, this is itself an example of fallacious argumentation -- it's a straw man.) In the real world, the relationship between the argument and the person making the argument is a lot more complex. If the person making the argument has a known bias or pattern of behavior which may be affected by the outcome of the debate, it is entirely logical, and not at all fallacious, to take this into account when interpreting his words.
      • by arkhan_jg (618674) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @07:30AM (#14641048)
        Ad hominem has no place in debating a point of logic (an argument is true or false no matter who says it), but it does have a place when dealing with human testimony.

        Take two of your examples.

        "You claim that this man is innocent, but you cannot be trusted since you are a criminal as well."

        If the criminal's claim is a testimony of another man's confession in prison for example, and the criminal is a criminal because he committed fraud and perjury... His character very much becomes part of the debate, as he may be lying again, which makes his testimony unreliable.

        "Tobacco company representatives are wrong when they say smoking doesn't seriously affect your health, because they're just defending their own multi-million-dollar financial interests."

        If the tobacco rep says that smoking doesn't harm people's health, the fact that his role is specifically to defend the tobacco business makes his position questionable, his likelyhood of lying is greater, and his evidence should go through extra scrutiny to see if it is reliable. If he has no independant evidence at all, then his position becomes even more tenuous.

        In a more abstract example, man A says argument T is the truth, based solely on his testimony. man B says A is lying because of his vested interest. According to you, that's an ad-hominem. T may or may not be true, but it's only true if A is not lying, so B has a valid reason to attack A's history of lying.

        Ad-hominem is best called out when an attack is made on someone's character that bears no relation to the argument they're making - your 2nd example is much better.

        In relation to TFA, Bill Gates is arguing that copying software is morally wrong, but he's doing it from a position in which he committed a similar moral wrong to write the software in the first place; i.e. the 'theft' of time from another. It's a case of "do what I say, not do what I do".

        He bases his case for renumeration on "The value of the computer time we have used exceeds $40,000."

        Man A is claiming he deserves remuneration because of costs C, and that without payment P, he cannot afford to make software (argument T). Man B claims that man A didn't spend anywhere near costs C, because he used the expensive computer time without paying for it, so P is not actually paying for C, but is pure profit for A. P is not needed to cover C, so without sufficient P there's no reason to assume that A will stop making software. Ergo, argument T is false, and Bill Gates needs to find another reason why we should buy his software.

        So it comes down to who you believe, A (Bill Gates) or B (Big Jojo), without other evidence. Man B's claim of theft of computer time directly affects man A's argument for remuneration, and is not an ad hominem.


      • Your argument is based on a logical fallacy known as ad hominem. Some examples of other such arguments (from Wikipedia that I linked):

        * "You claim that this man is innocent, but you cannot be trusted since you are a criminal as well."
        * "You feel that abortion should be legal, but I disagree because you are uneducated and poor."
        * "He's physically addicted to nicotine. Of course he defends smoking!"

    • by marvinglenn (195135) on Friday February 03, 2006 @11:00PM (#14639820)
      [...]where he stole PDP-10 time from a Seattle company (which went out of business), one of the Universities in Seattle (which kicked him and Paul Allen out when they found out about it), and even Harvard University.

      I'm not questioning the validity of this statement in this post, but it would be great if someone would post some links to evidence supporting this allegation.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 04, 2006 @12:12AM (#14640065)
        You'll not find any truthful supporting links as it's poorly crafted fiction. I attended Lakeside when both Bill Gates and Paul Allen were there. I was a couple of years behind Bill. Lakeside had a timeshare connection to a remote PDP machine for which the school purchased blocks of computing time in advance. Although it was not ever fully discussed, rumor at the time was that Paul and Bill inadvertently used an entire (expected) school year's worth of time in a single weekend. The amount of time was worth about $5,000 and although it caused a bit of a ruckus it was also admired by most of the students and much of the faculty (my mother was a faculty member at the time). The Allen and Gates families repaid the school and not much was thought of the affair.

        No one was kicked out. No theft was ever claimed and the time was used in an academic manner--experimentation--rather than for any commercial purpose.

        This was a couple years before the Altair Basic was written in hotel rooms near the Harvard campus.
        • by daigu (111684) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @01:02AM (#14640221) Journal
          How come your comments don't jive with the Register [theregister.co.uk], an article in the Statesman called "The Making Of The Empire" that was published in 26 February 2001, and other sources that basically say they changed log files monitoring time on the system, were caught and that they were banned from the system? Then, weeks later, a deal was struck where they could get time in exchange for documenting bugs?
          • by Maestro4k (707634) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @01:28AM (#14640285) Journal
            How come your comments don't jive with the Register, an article in the Statesman called "The Making Of The Empire" that was published in 26 February 2001, and other sources that basically say they changed log files monitoring time on the system, were caught and that they were banned from the system? Then, weeks later, a deal was struck where they could get time in exchange for documenting bugs?

            I cannot personally vouch for the veracity of Gates' early history provided at this site [vt.edu] but it seems to show that the events El Reg mentions happenned but that the time between them was several years. Basically they got in trouble in prep school in 1968 and then did the digging through code around that time as well. They wrote Altair Basic in 1974, 6 years later. So while they might have kept the code and copied it, it's also possible they didn't. I have no idea which is true, but it sounds like The Register decided to sensationalize their version a bit.

            Personally I can't stand Gates', but I try to be fair. Both seem to indicate that they used PDP-10 time at Harvard to simulate the Altair 8080 in order to make their Altair Basic but nothing says Harvard was upset about it. It probably wasn't terribly kosher to do so but they got away with it.

    • by commodoresloat (172735) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @12:35AM (#14640136)
      Bill Gates was not a thief; he just understood that PDP-10 time is a fundamental right. He was just trying out the PDP-10 to see if he wanted to buy one.
  • I agree! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 03, 2006 @09:47PM (#14639491)
    I agree with Bill Gates where he writes:
    Hardware must be paid for, but soft-ware is something to share. Who cares if the people who worked on it get paid?
  • Opening the Gates (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dingDaShan (818817) on Friday February 03, 2006 @09:47PM (#14639496)
    He makes a good point. Intellectual property is something that should be defended in order to preserve good order and for the sake of those who do the work. If there is no incentive to make money in a certain field, progress will suffer in a society such as a capitalist one.
    • I don't understand exactly what the point of this is on Slashdot. It's clear that Bill and pals wrote software and expected people to buy it. It's clear that many people pirated that software. It's clear that this made Bill unhappy.

      Bill didn't and doesn't want to give his software away. He's well within both his ethical and legal rights to charge for his software. Those who copy and sell his software without his permission are breaking the law and Bill is pointing that out.

      I'm missing the "infamous" po
    • Intellectual property has been defended all down the line ... it's in the goddamn Constitution, for chrissakes (admittedly, Thomas Jefferson had doubts about the whole thing.) The problem is that the defense, in recent decades, has become far too vigorous and needs to be put back where it belongs. This idea that we need the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act and the Digital Millenium Copyright Act and all the other myriad bits of legal bullshit that have come down the line in order to eliminate the public d
    • If you want people to create stuff for you to use, you usually have to pay them. You can say that it should be otherwise, but the fact is, most people don't do stuff for free. They just don't. You either pay them, or it doesn't get done.

      Fortunately, the GPL has given us a better way to pay people for the work of creating good software: They get paid with everybody else's work.

      • Fortunately, the GPL has given us a better way to pay people for the work of creating good software: They get paid with everybody else's work.

        Really? Tell that to the janitor at Red Hat or the CEO or the sales reps. They seem to want to get paid in cash. And they've actually managed to convince you that somehow you don't deserve any of their money despite you doing the actual creative work. Yeah. Great idea.

        Funny thing is, the whole "GPL" thing was originally a way for CASH-RICH geeks to pay something back

    • by Mateito (746185) on Friday February 03, 2006 @10:18PM (#14639661) Homepage
      If there is no incentive to make money in a certain field, progress will suffer in a society such as a capitalist one.

      Absolutely, but there shouldn't be blanket permission to prevent societies evolution to your gain. This was the original idea of copyright - the holder could make money out of their invention/creation for a "reasonable" period of time, then the content fell back into the public domain.

      Also, once something is in the public domain, it should be there for all. Disney has made a fortune by taking out-of-copyright material (Cinderella, Pooh, Snow White), reworking it, then throwing lawyers at everybody who attempts to use the original material.

      Finally, people who want to put their creations "conditionally" into the public domain (eg - GPL) should be protected. Although they aren't motivated by money, to see somebody else get rich by using your work (outside the rules) is a different kettle of fish.

    • Intellectual property is something that should be defended in order to preserve good order

      Huh? Sounds like you are saying "we should never change because is bad."

      and for the sake of those who do the work.

      I think you mean - for the sake of the capitalists who pay the hourly wages of those who do the work and expect to sell the results of that work over and over again.

      If there is no incentive to make money in a certain field, progress will suffer in a society such as a capitalist one.

      You are correct - but it
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 03, 2006 @09:49PM (#14639505)
    ...where you would "activate" your software license by locally printing out a punch tape which you mail to him and receive a response punch tape with your BASIC interpreter key. It didn't go over because toggling some front panel switches caused you to have to reactivate and mail a new punch tape to Gates.

  • by rewt66 (738525) on Friday February 03, 2006 @09:50PM (#14639513)
    Wow, this sure feels weird. But I'm actually going to agree with Bill Gates.

    If somebody is selling software, taking a copy of it and using it without paying for it is not cool. Taking a copy and selling copies of the copies is even less cool.

    I mean, look, we get on people for GPL violations if they use GPL code in something and won't let people have the source code. Why is that bad? Because they are using somebody else's stuff without permission. The author has made it available under some terms, and other people want to make money off of it without following the terms. That is rude; it is unethical; and it is illegal.

    Now, given all the stuff that Microsoft has done over the years, i don't think Bill Gates has a lot of room for the moral outrage. And the world might have been a better place had he shared the spirit of the hobbyists - the idea of freely sharing. But he still has a point.

    • If somebody is selling software, taking a copy of it and using it without paying for it is not cool. Taking a copy and selling copies of the copies is even less cool.

      Yes, but Microsoft has since learnt how to use casual piracy as a marketing tool. Letting people copy their software is an investment in the future for them.

      I tell people not to copy windows because I want them to use free alternatives, not because I care about Bill's next billion.

      • by AHumbleOpinion (546848) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @01:22AM (#14640270) Homepage
        Yes, but Microsoft has since learnt how to use casual piracy as a marketing tool. Letting people copy their software is an investment in the future for them.

        Not really, that's more of an operating system tactic, Bill was selling BASIC at the time. The lesson Bill learned was to charge per CPU shipped, first by getting into Apple and Commodore ROMs, and eventually leading to the infamous "Microsoft tax" on PCs that leave the factory. Thank the casual pirates for that.
    • If somebody is selling software, taking a copy of it and using it without paying for it is not cool. Taking a copy and selling copies of the copies is even less cool.

      Bill Gates would agree with you, but you might want to do as he does rather than as he says. Here's some nice reading material for you [kmfms.com]. It does not even mention the big greedy grab of macsyma, nastran and other software developed at public cost. Stealing software, on way or another, is something Bill is good at. It's a shame you should ta

  • Reselling? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Karma Farmer (595141) on Friday February 03, 2006 @09:50PM (#14639515)
    They are the ones who give hobbyists a bad name, and should be kicked out of any club meeting they show up at.

    People would show up at club meetings and sell pirated copies of commercial software? And people didn't see anything wrong with this?

    Frankly, every time I read this letter, I'm very damned impressed with Bill Gates. He's worked very had to create an environment where commercial software can exist, and I'm very damned grateful to him for it.
    • Re:Reselling? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Animats (122034) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @12:09AM (#14640059) Homepage
      People would show up at club meetings and sell pirated copies of commercial software? And people didn't see anything wrong with this?

      Yes. It wasn't a criminal offense back then. Copyright was strictly a civil issue, like patent infringement is today. Criminal copyright penalties were introduced for film and sound recordings in 1982, and for everything else in 1992. Thirty years ago, it wasn't even clear that computer programs should be copyrightable at all. There was considerable discussion over this, and prominent authors argued against it. [digital-law-online.info]

      Byte Magazine, in the early days, ran full page ads for a company called "Pirate's Harbor". "Locksmith", a tool for breaking copy protection, was a successsful commercial product.

  • by Glomek (853289) on Friday February 03, 2006 @09:50PM (#14639516)
    As I recall, 4k basic for the Altair was written on an Altair emulator running on a PDP-10 running TOPS-10 at Harvard, which the students were not authorized to use for commercial purposes.
    • "As I recall, 4k basic for the Altair was written on an Altair emulator running on a PDP-10 running TOPS-10 at Harvard, which the students were not authorized to use for commercial purposes."

      Yeah, at least when Stallman wasted MIT's resources on his crusade, he was consistent, since he believes things should be shared, whether or not the owner agrees.
  • Piracy is piracy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by The Bungi (221687)
    Regardless of the chuckles and oh-so-funny jokes coming from the peanut gallery on this, software sold by Microsoft then and now (and by thousands of other commercial vendors) has a certain licensing agreement associated with it. Whether this is "right", "wrong", "good" or "evil", that's the way it is. The alternative is not to use the software - just as the alternative to dealing with the RIAA is not to listen to their music.
    • Historical context (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Tony (765) on Friday February 03, 2006 @10:19PM (#14639666) Journal
      There's a lot to understand about the early days of personal computing. Consider Microsoft: it's biggest accomplishment was porting BASIC (for which they used publicly-available source code) to port to the ALTAIR (for which Mr. Allen wrote the interpreter). So, the BASIC which Mr. Gates so zealously defended was taken from BASIC source code which was publicly available.

      His defense of copyright was hypocritical, at best. The one piece of code to which Microsoft had clear copyright (the ALTAIR emulator) was written on a college PDP machine, and wasn't contested. The bit that *was* contested was code *which Gates himself* had taken from public domain.

      The historical context is simple. At the time, code was shared freely, to the profit of everyone involved. Everyone stood tall, until Gates and his ilk arrived, standing on the shoulders of giants and proclaiming they were the tallest motherfuckers around.

      The whole idea of someone "owning" a chunk of computing is bunk. It always has been. It hurts us all. Do you think Microsoft would be where they are today without freely-available code? If so, take back Altair BASIC, take back the TCP stack in MS-Windows (taken from BSD TCP), take back MS Internet Explorer and MS HTTP. Take it all away, and see where Microsoft stands.

      Historically, his rant was nothing but petty hypocritical gutter-sniping from an ultra-rich college punk.
      • by ichin4 (878990)

        Your historical context is valuable, but it doesn't justify your claim that the whole idea of owning the rights to software is bunk. Let me provide a little more historical context.

        Historically, there was never any legal notion that works in the public domain couldn't or shouldn't be used as the basis for propiratary works. If I take a novel in the public domain, I am free to write a sequel to it, using the same characters and settings, but not release my sequal into the public domain. Indeed, many legal

    • Arr, matey! (Score:3, Funny)

      by mrchaotica (681592)
      Aye, piracy is piracy -- but copyright infringment ain't piracy, ye lilly-livered bilge rat!
  • You owe me! (Score:3, Informative)

    by cunamara (937584) on Friday February 03, 2006 @09:51PM (#14639519)
    There you have Bill Gates's basic view of the world: "I've done all this work and you owe me." Maybe he still thinks that way; I've never met him so I dunno. Well, he's been paid back a few times over for his investment. I am always struck by his line "The value of the computer time we have used exceeds $40,000." Note that he doesn't say that it *cost* him $40,000, only that the value of the time exceeded that amount. What's up with that? Where'd he get that computer time and who paid for it?
    • Re:You owe me! (Score:3, Informative)

      by smash (1351)
      I suspect you already know this, but he broke into university and "Stole" it.

      :)

      smash.

    • Re:You owe me! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ScentCone (795499)
      "I've done all this work and you owe me." Maybe he still thinks that way

      Do you feel that way after you do work? I know I do. Until that check clears, somebody definitely owes me for making computers do things for them that they themselves couldn't or didn't do. Like Bill, I'd be especially tweeked if someone else was cashing in on it (my work) instead.

      I'm glad for you that you can do the work you want with your waking hours, and not worry about exchanging that time for the value (cash) with which you
  • by defile (1059) on Friday February 03, 2006 @09:55PM (#14639539) Homepage Journal

    I don't get it.

    Is it significant because it's "the first time" someone argued that software ought to be paid for like a shrinkwrapped product?

    Are you supposed to laugh at Gates's shortsightedness because "hobbyists" developed enterprise grade software like Linux, Apache, etc. for free? (a myth)

    Did this letter have any effect at all? Didn't Gates & Co. just figure out they should sell to businesses instead of hobbyists?

    • I don't get it.

      Around about that time my Dad bought a CP/M system from a backyard operator. We built our own case and ripped apart an old serial terminal as a user interface.

      The guy who sold us the hardware gave us heaps of free software. I got C and pascal compilers for free, though I knew they were commercial.

      The attitude seemed to be that if you could easily copy it then it was perfectly ok to do so. Nobody thought of all this microcomputer stuff as big business then anyway. Of course now it is.

      Peopl

      • People still copy stuff but they don't pretend that this is the way the world is. They do it more sneakily.

        No they don't! I, for example, am proud of my copying -- I don't just freely admit to it, I shout it from the rooftops (or, in this case, a Slashdot post):

        I COPY SOFTWARE!!! HEAR THAT, GATES?! COME AND GET ME!

        'Course, it might make a little difference that it's this software [gnu.org]...

    • Is it significant because it's "the first time" someone argued that software ought to be paid for like a shrinkwrapped product?

      Yes.

      Did this letter have any effect at all?

      It changed the very conception of intellectual property. Anybody who grew up in the 80s or later will never really understand the latter, but things used to be very, very different.

      Didn't Gates & Co. just figure out they should sell to businesses instead of hobbyists?

      No, no, no. Gates had just figured out that they should sell to hobbyi
  • The scientific tools of the day would have been fortran and C. If you wanted mass appeal then basic was certainly the way to go, but APL is a strange way to extend your market reach.

  • by evanism (600676) on Friday February 03, 2006 @09:57PM (#14639546) Journal
    So... now that he has his 10 programmers, is he going to write really good software???
  • In Soviet Russia, ALTAIR BASIC kicks you!
  • by Zork the Almighty (599344) on Friday February 03, 2006 @09:59PM (#14639560) Journal
    Of course, the exact same argument is being made today, by Microsoft and Adobe, but also by the RIAA and MPAA. It's funny how Gates earlier words on the subject seem to carry so much more force. At the time he had a small company with an honest mission, and it's hard not to feel a little bit bad about how everyone was using his software but hardly anybody was paying him for it.

    Fortunately, what is true for small markets is not true for larger, established markets. Enough companies make money off of OSS to help support its development, and free music will hopefully become viable as the cost of production falls closer and closer to hobbyist levels. That being said, there is a fundamental truth to Gates' words: successful pioneers deserve to be paid.
    • Real Irony. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by twitter (104583) on Friday February 03, 2006 @11:55PM (#14640002) Homepage Journal
      That being said, there is a fundamental truth to Gates' words: successful pioneers deserve to be paid.

      It's funny that he now thinks of pioneers as "loss leaders" and pledges not to enter a "market" until it's "mature". "Mature" means there's enough public awareness to buy one of the "loss leaders" for a song or crush the rest of them for nothing.

      The biggest mistake, however, is to buy the core message. Free software, developed by users, blows non free software away. The "quality" software and docmentation he said could only be created by paying him is here and "flooding the market." The whole binary ecology is based on a lie. The biggest part of that lie is that there's no other way to make software and that we must sacrifice our freedom to have computers that work.

      The tide is already turning. DRM'd music is making the cost of non free software obvious to everyone. The abundance of free software that anyone can download and use [mepis.org], blows everything Bill says right out of the water. Your children will not be able to believe that public school systems were once sued for sharing text editors.

  • Right back atcha! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sdfad1 (880883) on Friday February 03, 2006 @10:23PM (#14639682) Homepage Journal

    Below is a reply in the subsequent issue [digibarn.com] from the "hobbyists". Interesting to see what things was like back then -- same discussions, arguments etc. The more things change, the more things stay the same.

    Your software has helped many hobbyists, and you are to be thanked for it! However, you should not blame the hobbyists for your own inadequete marketing of it. You gave it away; none stole it from you. Now you're asking for software welfare so you can give more away. If $2/hr is all you got for your efforts, then $2/hr is what they're worth on the free market. You should either change your product or change your way of selling it, if you feel it'll bring more money. I'm sure that if I were MITS, I'd be chuckling all the way to the bank over the deal I got from you. After all, your marvelous software has allowed them to sell a computer which, without it, none would have touched, except as a frustrating novelty item.

    I congratulate you and MITS upon being major influences in the founding of the computer hobby market. It's too bad you didn't get the profit from your efforts that they did from theirs, but that's your fault, not theirs or the hobbyists. You underpriced your product.

    If you want monetary reward for your software creations, you had better stop writing code for a minute and think a little harder about your market and how are you going to sell to it. And, by the way, calling all of your potential future customers thieves is perhaps "uncool" marketing strategy!

    Man, it feels good to blaze away on the keyboard once in a while. If only I can code this fast! Any errors are solely mine of course. Please check originals for identity of poster, additional context regarding this letter, and to verify any typos.

  • by humphrm (18130) on Friday February 03, 2006 @10:42PM (#14639751) Homepage
    "What hobbyist can put 3-man years into programming, finding all bugs, documenting his product and distribute for free?"
    - Linus Torvalds and another couple hundred
    - Andrew Tridgell and another couple dozen
    - Larry Wall and another couple thousand
    - Marc Andreessen and who knows how many
    - Repeat for several thousand other projects...

    "The fact is, no one besides us has invested a lot of money in hobby software"
    Until 1991.

    Guess that's why he hates Linux so much, they blew his whole argument.
  • by johnrpenner (40054) on Friday February 03, 2006 @10:44PM (#14639758) Homepage

    From: RMS@MIT-OZ@mit-eddie.UUCP (Richard Stallman)
    Newsgroups: net.unix-wizards,net.usoft
    Subject: new UNIX implementation
    Date: Tue, 27-Sep-83 13:35:59 EDT
    Organization: MIT AI Lab, Cambridge, MA

    Free Unix! Starting this Thanksgiving I am going to write a complete Unix-compatible software system called GNU (for Gnu's Not Unix), and give it away free to everyone who can use it. Contributions of time, money, programs and equipment are greatly needed.

    To begin with, GNU will be a kernel plus all the utilities needed to write and run C programs: editor, shell, C compiler, linker, assembler, and a few other things. After this we will add a text formatter, a YACC, an Empire game, a spreadsheet, and hundreds of other things. We hope to supply, eventually, everything useful that normally comes with a Unix system, and anything else useful, including on-line and hardcopy documentation.

    GNU will be able to run Unix programs, but will not be identical to Unix. We will make all improvements that are convenient, based on our experience with other operating systems. In particular, we plan to have longer filenames, file version numbers, a crashproof file system, filename completion perhaps, terminal-independent display support, and eventually a Lisp-based window system through which several Lisp programs and ordinary Unix programs can share a screen. Both C and Lisp will be available as system programming languages. We will have network software based on MIT's chaosnet protocol, far superior to UUCP. We may also have something compatible with UUCP.

    Who Am I? I am Richard Stallman, inventor of the original much-imitated EMACS editor, now at the Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT. I have worked extensively on compilers, editors, debuggers, command interpreters, the Incompatible Timesharing System and the Lisp Machine operating system. I pioneered terminal-independent display support in ITS. In addition I have implemented one crashproof file system and two window systems for Lisp machines.

    Why I Must Write GNU I consider that the golden rule requires that if I like a program I must share it with other people who like it. I cannot in good conscience sign a nondisclosure agreement or a software license agreement.

    So that I can continue to use computers without violating my principles, I have decided to put together a sufficient body of free software so that I will be able to get along without any software that is not free.

    How You Can Contribute I am asking computer manufacturers for donations of machines and money. I'm asking individuals for donations of programs and work.

    One computer manufacturer has already offered to provide a machine. But we could use more. One consequence you can expect if you donate machines is that GNU will run on them at an early date. The machine had better be able to operate in a residential area, and not require sophisticated cooling or power.

    Individual programmers can contribute by writing a compatible duplicate of some Unix utility and giving it to me. For most projects, such part-time distributed work would be very hard to coordinate; the independently-written parts would not work together. But for the particular task of replacing Unix, this problem is absent. Most interface specifications are fixed by Unix compatibility. If each contribution works with the rest of Unix, it will probably work with the rest of GNU.

    If I get donations of money, I may be able to hire a few people full or part time. The salary won't be high, but I'm looking for people for whom knowing they are helping humanity is as important as money. I view this as a way of enabling dedicated people to devote their full energies to working on GNU by sparing them the need to make a living in another way.

    For more information, contact me.
    Arpanet mail: RMS@MIT-MC.ARPA

    US Snail: Richard Stallman
    166 Prospect St, Cambridge, MA 02139

  • by fbg111 (529550) on Friday February 03, 2006 @10:51PM (#14639792)
    "Hardware must be paid for, but software is something to share." - Gates

    Well, Gates may have totally missed the Internet, but he can sure claim to have predicted Open Source! (at least, if you take his words out of context)
  • by Bloody Peasant (12708) on Saturday February 04, 2006 @11:13AM (#14641605) Homepage
    "...They are the ones who give hobbyists a bad name, and should be kicked out of any club meeting they show up at."
    YOU ENDED THAT SENTENCE WITH A PREPOSITION! [fanbolt.com]

"We learn from history that we learn nothing from history." -- George Bernard Shaw

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