Meet Bill Gates, the Man Who Changed Open Source Software

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The meeting took place a week before Bill Gates retired from Microsoft, and the topic was open source software. It was the summer of 2008, and for years, the open source community had viewed Microsoft as public enemy number one. Seven years earlier, CEO Steve Ballmer had referred to Linux as a “malignant cancer,” and as recently as the previous summer, Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith and licensing chief Horacio Gutierrez had told Fortune Magazine that Linux violated 235 of its patents, implying that it would soon demand royalties from any big business using the open source OS.

But at the same time, Microsoft realized how powerful the free software movement could be, and the company was exploring ways it could make nice with the ever-growing community of developers who used open source. For two years, Sam Ramji had served as head of open source strategy at Microsoft, and every three months, he met with Bill Gates and other execs to show off various open source technologies put together by a small team of Microsoft engineers.

But that afternoon was different.