Open Letter to Hobbyists

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Bill Gates' Open Letter to Hobbyists from the Homebrew Computer Club Newsletter, January 1976

The Open Letter to Hobbyists was an open letter written by Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, to early personal computer hobbyists, in which Gates expresses dismay at the rampant copyright infringement taking place in the hobbyist community, particularly with regard to his company's software.

The letter, dated February 3, 1976, was published in the Homebrew Computer Club Newsletter (Volume 2, Issue 1), and was written in response to an incident at an earlier club meeting. An unknown person had brought a copy of Microsoft Altair BASIC on paper tape to that meeting. Dan Sokol, a semiconductor-engineering manager, took that tape and made more than seventy copies of it, which were then distributed at the next meeting free of charge.[1]

In the letter, Gates expressed frustration with most computer hobbyists who were using his company's Altair BASIC software without having paid for it. He asserted that such widespread unauthorized copying in effect discourages developers from investing time and money into creating quality software. He cited the unfairness of gaining the benefits of software authors' time, effort, and capital, without paying that author anything.


[edit] Excerpts

  • "Without good software and an owner who understands programming, a hobby computer is wasted. Will quality software be written for the hobby market?"
  • "The feedback we have gotten from the hundreds of people who say they are using BASIC has all been positive. Two surprising things are apparent, however, 1) Most of these "users" never bought BASIC (less than 10% of all Altair owners have bought BASIC), and 2) The amount of royalties we have received from sales to hobbyists makes the time spent on Altair BASIC worth less than $2 an hour."
  • "Who can afford to do professional work for nothing? What hobbyist can put 3-man years into programming, finding all bugs, documenting his product and distribute for free?"

[edit] Magazines that published the letter

Dave Bunnell of MITS sent the letter via special delivery mail to every major computer publication in the country.[2] It was printed in the following.

  • Gates, Bill (February 10, 1976). "An Open Letter To Hobbyists". Micro-8 Computer User Group Newsletter (Lompoc, CA: Cabrillo Computer Center) 2 (2): p. 1. 
  • Gates, Bill (March 11, 1976). "An Open Letter to Hobbyists". Minicomputer News (Boston MA: Benwill Publishing). 
  • Gates, Bill (March-April 1976). "An Open Letter To Hobbyists". People's Computer Company (Menlo Park, CA: People's Computer Company) 4 (5). 

Several responses to the letter were published, including one from Bill Gates.

  • Warren, Jim C. (July 1976). "Correspondence". SIGPLAN Notices (ACM) 11 (7): p. 1.  Jim Warren, the editor of Dr. Dobbs Journal, describes how the Tiny BASIC project is an alternative to hobbyist "ripping off" software.
  • Singer, Harold L. (March 28, 1976). "An Open Letter to Ed Roberts". Micro-8 Computer User Group Newsletter (Lompoc, CA: Cabrillo Computer Center) 2 (4): p. 1. 
  • Wada, Robert (July 1976). "An Opinion on Software Marketing". BYTE (Peterborough, NH: BYTE Publications) 1 (11): pp. 90,91. 

[edit] References

  1. ^ John Markoff, What the Dormouse Said (ISBN 0-670-03382-0)
  2. ^ Mames, Stephen; Paul Andrews (1994). Gates: How Microsoft's Mogul Reinvented an Industry and Made Himself the Richest Man in America. Touchstone, Simon and Schuster. p. 91. ISBN 0-671-88074-8.  Chapter 7 "Thieves in our Midst!"

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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