22 Apr 2004 ken   » (Journeyer)

FOSS will lose in developing countries

FOSS will lose in developing countries and proprietary software will dominate these countries even more strongly than it currently dominates mature economies such as the US and Europe.

Why do I say this? Aren't tons of developing countries drafting or implementing open source policies? Haven't there been a slew of positive reports on FOSS from development agencies and NGOS? Doesn't FOSS provide a huge number of compelling benefits for developing nations?

Yes to all of those questions. They don't matter though, because ultimately all of the above are just words, not action. This is action:

Microsoft announces US$1 billion dollar partnership with UNDP to assist developing nations.

The last community related announcement I have seen from a FOSS company is this one:

RH launches US$23,000 scholarship programme in India

Not to belittle Red Hat's efforts or anything. They are doing something really admirable there. But what policy maker will look at the two headlines and say, "oh, let's go with the US$23k dude". These announcements make a big difference. Within days of the announcement, policy makers were going, "crap, let's reconsider these FOSS projects, otherwise we won't get a cut of that US$1 billion." Got to hand it to MS - they know good PR.

Where are all the FOSS companies? Have we ever seen IBM announce a global partnership to assist countries? HP? Sun? Any of the other major FOSS companies? Nope. Would love it if someone would point them out to me. All I see are the announcements of IBM signing their latest deal with some government, or Sun, or HP. All business transactions. All profits for these companies, no cost.

"But they don't have US$40 billion sitting in their bank account like Microsoft!" the FOSS defenders will cry. Big deal. You don't need US$1 billion to ante up at this poker table. Microsoft isn't throwing US$1 billion in cash in their "Unlimited Potential" program. Check the details carefully. A little bird (homage to Jeff Ooi) told me that MS isn't funding hardware purchases. So that leaves mostly software and training, valued at market rates. How much does it really cost them?

"IBM and Red Hat can't do that! Software is already given away free and trainers still cost money!", more FOSS defenders will cry. Right. IBM and Red Hat have other valuable resources that developing nations desperately need. Can't give away training? How about training materials? How about projects to start self-sufficient training centers in a country? Doesn't take much - send in a few trainers with your training material, train a few more trainers there and the cycle goes on. Don't want to canibalize your profitable training business in developed countries? Pull a Microsoft. Give away material in a non-English language.

Bottom line? FOSS companies need to step up to the plate and be seen as doing more to help developing countries. It doesn't have to cost much. Talk to some NGOs that are actually on the ground. They know how to do much with very little. All you need is a little creativity.

Not that it will make them any sales or profits in the short run. But in the long run, would you rather be competing in a market where your competitors dominate 95% of the market or 50%? Are you going to abandon the future for short term sales today?

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