Ex-Microsoftie: Free Software Will Kill Redmond

Keith Curtis, author and former Microsoft programmer, makes no bones about his view that open source puts the software giant's wares to shame. In this interview, he discusses what's wrong with Microsoft programming, what's behind all those bugs, and what's shaping his former employer's grim future.

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Thu, May 21, 2009
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Linux changes how people think about their computer. Microsoft has no response for this.

In addition, proprietary software hurts Microsoft. Google writes mostly proprietary software, but quietly leverages a lot of free software that is a key to its success.

What can Microsoft do to curb the threat of free software, and what do you think it will be willing to do?

Other than adopting Linux, there is little Microsoft can do. Even if they did embrace it, not only would it hurt their profit margins, they'd be forced to explain to customers why they should continue to pay for Office if the company believes the free OpenOffice is good enough.

Microsoft has created Web sites where developers can use free code and collaborate, and the latest is called CodePlex. While it shows that Microsoft understands the benefits of free software, this site mostly contains tiny add-ons to proprietary Microsoft products.

Microsoft has also released some software it wrote under various open licenses. While it is good PR for Microsoft, this software is being absorbed by the outside community. This doesn't actually curb the threat; it increases it.

So I don't really know what Microsoft can do. While the company says it doesn't like piracy, it does allow itself to compete on price with free software. As Bill Gates wrote: "It's easier for our software to compete with Linux when there's piracy than when there's not."

Other than operating systems and application development, how is proprietary software impeding progress in the world?

Faster progress in artificial intelligence is one of the most interesting benefits we'll receive from free software. We could have had thinking machines and cars that drive us around years ago if we had our AI researchers all over the world working together.

It will also improve our understanding of biology. I went to a human genomics conference and found it was filled with proprietary software. I think many companies in this field have adopted the Microsoft model, thinking it was how people should build software. In my book, I talk about how free software will play a key part in the 21st century renaissance.


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