Microsoft chairman, Bill Gates, is feeling the heat for his criticism of capitalism during an interview with Wall Street Journal days before his presentation at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Gates, who is a specimen of capitalism at work, says the system needs to be refined in order to create room for what he calls “creative capitalism.”

Bill Gates
Bill Gates testifies at a Senate commitee hearing on strengthening American competitiveness. Washington, D.C., March 7, 2007.

The Microsoft co-founder defines this new model as one in which beneficiaries of market forces “apply some of their innovation to the needs of the poor.”

Minutes after the interview clip was posted on the net, droves of critics inscribed their remarks, most of them upbraiding Gates for his “hypocrisy.” Many seem to think the billionaire’s suggestion is nothing but an insulting attempt to wash away his sins and distract the public from what they describe as his “monopolistic” approach that has “crippled creativity” in technology.

Not only was he accused of being a fraud, Gates ran the internet gauntlet mainly against the background of the Microsoft – Linux row that surfaced last year. With claims of patent infringements, the IT giant strong-armed pioneers from the open source community to sign an “inoperability” agreement that encourages them to work toward compatibility with Microsoft and avoid lawsuits in the future.

While Novell, Xandros, and Linspire succumbed to Microsoft’s threats, the Ubuntu team refused to budge. Ubuntu founder, Mark Shuttleworth, defied Gates claiming his arguments lacked merit as the patents that Microsoft says are being encroached upon, still remain “unspecified.” Consequently, the two have since been at war and it is no surprise most have thrown support behind Shuttleworth.

However, I think the ideas formulated about Gates are somewhat misplaced. Whatever system that governs us makes survival of the fittest an imperative part of our nature and Gates is no exception. Even the critics must agree that capitalism as we know it is clearly embedded with flaws. Any suggestions to improve it and, at the same time, invest in the plight of the have-nots, sounds good to me. Many seem to forget that members of the open source community also threatened Microsoft on the same grounds in an effort to do just what Gates is doing: protecting his market.

“With claims of patent infringements, the IT giant strong-armed pioneers from the open source community to sign an “inoperability” agreement that encourages them to work toward compatibility with Microsoft and avoid lawsuits in the future.” Poverty runs on a continuum and Gates is correct in saying the “disparity between the best and the worst is greater today than ever.” Based on this realization, the Microsoft head continues to recruit powerful entrepreneurs like Warren Buffet, to join the mission to bring hope to those that are afflicted.

The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is a torch bearer of humanity. Speak to Mira Nair whose AIDS Jaago campaign in India has the Foundation as its oxygen, she will agree. Then there is the Microsoft “I Can” programme that employs technology to enlighten youth in neglected communities. And in some of these communities, the latest windows operating system is sold for US$3, including support.

But of all the Gates’s efforts to help create solutions, my favourite is his development of the software that specifically tries to erase child pornography online. While the programme on its own cannot stamp out the sexual predators of the world, it is an invaluable source of assistance and reference for the men and women who dedicate their energy to protecting the welfare of the world’s children; they include yours and mine.

Whatever the critics say, one cannot ignore that Gates’s creative capitalism idea is one of the clearest narratives in support of the war on poverty.

Raquel is a writer and PR/Communications Consultant in Toronto.