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Neil Stevenson, in his weblog, argues that three people are most responsible for the development of the Linux system we all know and love: Linus Torvalds, Richard Stallman, and Bill Gates. And I don't think he's crazy.
Now, you might just ask how Bill Gates could in any way, shape or form, be responsible for the development of Linux, the "cancer" that is destroying software development (as his number 1 lieutenant Steve Ballmer puts it).
Well, it's like this: In order for Linus to develop the kernel that is Linux, he had to have the toolchain of compiler, editor and linker to be able to do this. These are the tools that were developed by, or indirectly caused to be developed, by Richard Stallman as a result of the creation of the Free Software Foundation. But, all these tools and even the kernel would have been worthless if all we had were very expensive, underpowered hardware such as was the original IBM-PC.
Now, what caused the PC to become much more powerful and less expensive? The commodity purchase of lots of them by lots of people in order to do all the different jobs they have to do. And what was the driving force for this? MS-DOS and later Windows.
If there hadn't been a relatively easy way to run programs on PCs, and ways to develop products that could run on all of them, the PC would still be an expensive product that few would own and it wouldn't be very powerful. And that was a result of having a standard operating system to work from.
So whether people want to admit it or not, if Microsoft had not developed software that made it possible for lots of computers to be sold, the price of computers would still be very high and Linux would be nothing but unrealized potential because very few could afford the hardware necessary to run a multi-tasking OS.