Scott McMahan
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Bill Gates And Friendly Capitalism
Posted by: Scott McMahan | more..
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Bill Gates, in Switzerland, gave a speech about capitalism becoming a friendly, positive force for change in the world. The upshot (interested readers can find news coverage of the speech with no problems) was that the poor would be helped if capitalists weren't so greedy.

I think we need to remember two points:

First, Bill Gates has been no friend to the poor because Microsoft has used its dominant position as a monopoly to train the world to buy software from them. How much innovation and wealth could have come from poor countries if free software had been available all along? Poor countries could have had access to a UNIX-like operating system and better software development tools, databases, and productivity tools decades ago. Instead, to use a computer was to buy software from Microsoft. Or, of course, pirate it, but that's still playing the game where software costs money. Microsoft wants people to believe that, to use computer technology, they have to buy software from Microsoft. Even if MS gave software away to the poor, they're still perpetuating this idea that software is owned by a company and people are allowed to use it only on the company's terms. This was not how software started, and, fortunately, the world is breaking free of this mentality. The best thing for poor countries is an open GNU/Linux system that they can use without any "intellectual property" restrictions.

Second, Bill Gates' Microsoft has done more to hold back innovation and progress in the computer age than, frankly, anyone. His company gave the world the miserable GW-BASIC and Visual Basic programming languages, which have stunted and ruined several generations of would-be programmers now. These are the ones who would have created wealth and innovation in poor countries. With the Microsoft mindset of sloppy, ad-hoc programming in deficient, broken programming environments (the condemnation of Microsoft's BASIC offerings is universal among those in the computer field who can evaluate such things), the world's ability to innovate has been held back for several generations. Only now that Linux and the Mac are opening the world to alternatives like Python, LISP, and so forth has the tide turned. Who knows what the world would be like today if early personal computers came with a Forth interpreter or a LISP system? Instead, many people's first exposure to software development came from GW-BASIC, and who knows how many innovators were turned off or stunted? Once you use something like BASIC, it's hard to stop thinking in that mindset and switch to a productive, expressive programming language.

I do not know why people are giving such weight to the words of a man who largely ignored the Internet in his prediction of the future, and has done so much harm to human progress in his life, but I think it comes down to idolatry. People need someone who is rich and powerful to set up as an idol.

Category:  Computers and Web

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