SCENE: CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEEROOM -- It's the first day of hearings investigating the software industry's possible suppression of the "free software" movement.

John Soat, Contributor

February 17, 2006

3 Min Read

SCENE: CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE ROOM. It's the first day of hearings investigating the software industry's possible suppression of the "free software" movement.

PRESENT: MEMBERS OF HOUSE COMMITTEE ON TECHNOLOGY STUFF, along with LARRY ELLISON, chairman, Oracle; BILL GATES, chairman, Microsoft; SAM PALMISANO, chairman, IBM; ERIC SCHMIDT, CEO, Google. The room is packed with reporters, lit up by bright lights, and filled with the insectlike sounds of clicking and whirring cameras.

REP. FOGHORN LEGHORN: What I fail to understand, gentlemen, is this: If some software is free, why isn't all software free?

GATES: I'm afraid, congressman, it's a little more complicated than that.

SCHMIDT: Google software is free.

ELLISON: Look at it this way, congressman. Some of the work that politicians do is free, but most of it isn't, right? It's the same thing.

SCHMIDT: Most of Google's work is free.

REP. LEGHORN: What about this so-called open-source software? Can you explain that? And why some software programs are of the open-source variety, while others are not?

PALMISANO: I'll take it. Open-source software means that the code, or instructions, for how the software operates are available for anyone to modify and work with. Some people feel this process produces better software. On the other hand, well-crafted proprietary code is a closely guarded competitive advantage for most software companies.

GATES: You get what you pay for. In this life, nobody gets anything handed to them. Well, almost nobody.

SCHMIDT: Google is constantly refining its search engine, the results from which are, of course, free.

REP. LEGHORN: Mr. Ellison, if your company generates revenue through the sale of proprietary database and application software, why are you acquiring open-source software companies? Are you misguided, or is there some method behind your madness?

ELLISON: The economics of the open-source movement are complicated and constantly shifting. Rest assured, congressman, that the best interests of Oracle are well represented.

REP. LEGHORN: Mr. Ellison, I want the truth.

ELLISON: You can't handle the truth!

SCHMIDT: Google is constantly searching for the truth, which is, or should be, free.

GATES: Ellison hates open-source software as much as the rest of us. Admit it, Larry.

ELLISON: Shut up, Bill.

REP. LEGHORN: Gentlemen, gentlemen, please control yourselves! The public is ill-served by rancor among its top technology executives.

SCHMIDT: The public is well served by Google's free search capability, which is generating a growing database of personal-search information, which we are accumulating, of course, for free.

GATES: Shove it, Schmidt!

SCHMIDT: Eat my shorts, loser.

To borrow a Louis-B.-Mayer-ism, free advice isn't worth the price tag. But I'll take an industry tip, if it doesn't cost me; send it to [email protected], or phone 516-562-5326.

The News Show is free, at noon EST every weekday, at or on information Which shouldn't necessarily be taken as an indicator of its value. You be the judge.

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