Kudos to Bill Hilf

As the head of Microsoft’s Linux Labs, Bill Hilf needs to have thick skin. I’ve seen Bill speak a number of times and despite his employer I was surprised to see some of his recent quotes:

“They are full-time employees, with 401K stock options. Some work for IBM or Oracle. What does that mean? It means that Linux doesn’t exist any more in 2007. There is no free software movement. If someone says Linux is about Love, Peace and Harmony, I would tell them to do their research. There is no free software movement any more. There is big commercial [firms] like IBM and there is small commercial [firms] like Ubuntu,” he said.

While it should come as no surprise that part of the issue here is overly-sensationalist journalism (a topic I have covered multiple times), it still takes a solid person to make a public correction… as Bill has:

A few folks have emailed or called me about statements I said in the Bangkok Post about the ‘end of Linux’ and ‘there is no free software movement.’ My statements were shaped in a sensationalist way, not surprisingly, this isn’t the first time the press has used shock value to get headlines. It then hit Slashdot and the blogosphere where a couple hundred people have called me every name under the sun. I have a tough skin – need to in this job. But days like this suck, to be honest.

I get asked Linux related questions from the press, most of which are probably obvious to you. One of the questions I often get asked is about the development of Linux by free software developers. I answer this by saying that most customers who use Linux, use a distribution like Red Hat or Ubuntu or SuSE and that although there are certainly a lot of developers who work for free, most of the people who do the daily work on the Linux kernel are paid to do so. Typically they are paid by IT companies who have a commercial interest in Linux. This isn’t FUD, it’s reality (Corbet from LWN did a great analysis of this here citing “at least 65% of the code which went into 2.6.20 was created by people working for companies”). And I answer this question because I get asked about it in press interviews.

But I’m rethinking that last part. Mostly because I don’t think it matters. If the software is open, it’s open, that does not change based on who developed it or why. In this article it sounds like I say ‘because they are paid, then free software is extinct!’ which, of course, is silly. I know this and I think it’s a combination of me not being clear and this particular article shaping it in a certain direction. But I’ll take the blame: I shoved my foot in my mouth and it came across as idiotic.

Thanks for the clarification, and I look forward to the promised comments on the recent Fortune story on ‘Microsoft versus the Free world’.

–jeremy

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