foobar on computers, software and the rest of the world

The Miracle of cheap and subsidised Windows

, posted: 23-Jan-2008 07:22

It has been apparent for quite some time now that Microsoft is fearing to lose developing markets before they even have become viable. Free software competition, usually based around Linux, is the biggest thread. Linux is used for the OLPC laptop, for example. And because of its lower cost and unprecedented access to the underlying technology and therefore teaching and learning opportunities, Linux has been suggested or is being discussed in many of those markets as a cost effective alternative to Microsoft's platform.

Consequently, Microsoft had to step in. It can't afford to loose a future potential market of hunfreds of millions of people: So now Microsoft is not only offering $3 versions of XP plus software to 'qualifying markets', they also just announced another generous offering: US$235.5 million in schools worldwide over the next five years ... part of a plan to triple the number of students and teachers trained in its software programs to up to 270 million by 2013. There is a very good article in the NY Times and also a discussion on Slashdot about it.

Of course we can see already the catch here. This money has to be used on Microsoft software. If the schools won't run Windows, they won't see any money. So, essentially, this is not a generous gift, or aid to developing nations. It's merely a large-scale market development initiative for Microsoft.

Back to the quoted sentence: ... triple the number of students and teachers trained in its software programs... Really, that's what it is all about. Training students (future decision makers?) in the use of Microsoft products, thus ensuring that Microsoft products are going to be their choice once they are in the position to make one. And for business customers then, of course the price won't be just $3, but the full price.

The phrasing here also rightfully suggest the big problem with using proprietary software to teach students. All they can learn is how to use a software product. Without the freedom to look under the hood, all they learn is to be mouse-clicking users, without any deeper understanding of what it is they are doing. Product trained, not technology trained or even technology wise. But that's a point for a different posting.

Anyway, as we can see, what Microsoft is doing here is neither generous, nor kind, nor aimed as an aid to those developing nations. It's market development on a massive scale by establishing a preemptive mind-share lock-in in those markets, so that free software (or any alternative, really) will not stand a chance in the future.

Microsoft is doing what it has to do. Every other company would do the same if they would have the same means and the same issues at stake. And it's very difficult to argue that developing nations should forgo the money. But we should at least point out the long term risks they are exposing themselves to and be absolutely clear: This generous offering only serves Microsoft, and nobody else.

Other related posts:
PC World: Move your business to Linux, not Vista
And you thought your computer would do what YOU wanted...
The great 'Windows collapse' of 2011?

Comment by mobygeek, on 23-Jan-2008 09:34

Well, I am just a mouse clicking user, but I found Geekzone! Sooner or later some little boy (or girl) will open up a computer to see how it works. That's how our son got to be so good. First thing he did was reverse the polarity and then his father had to put it all back together again! (Luckily it was home built for him - where did his father learn to put a computer together from?) Now his father asks his advice. I can see your point, but as long as we have people around who are prepared to learn more, we don't need to be quite as afraid of tat brave new (Microsoft) world? Or is it worse than that?

Comment by freitasm, on 23-Jan-2008 10:27

When I was at University, more than 20 years ago, we had papers on assembler, operating systems, compilers and other low level stuff.

What's in there today?

Do they teach anything else or just application development?

Perhaps that would be the problem? Too much effort put into teaching people how to use tools, not to develop them?

Comment by Kevin Daly, on 23-Jan-2008 13:16

Um, isn't it possible for something to be mutually beneficial?

The most useful software for teachers and trainers and students to be trained is that which is in most common use on real world desktops, which is...guess what.

Also please note: I believe the word you're looking for is "lose", not "loose". The first is pronounced with a "z", the second with an "s".

Author's note by foobar, on 25-Jan-2008 05:19

@mobygeek: I think it's worse than that. You see, you can't open up proprietary software like you open up a hardware box. Proprietary software is design so that it restricts the freedoms of the user (you). It tells you what you are and are not allowed to do with it, even though once loaded it is nothing but a bunch of bits in YOUR computer's memory and on YOUR computer's harddrive. Yet, the proprietary software vendors try to impose their idea of what you should be allowed to do with your computer and your data. They do that by legal and technical means.

So, in the end, the ability to 'open up' the software to take a look under the hood is being taken away from you. Only free and open software can give you this ability. Your sun got started by exploring. Imagine he would not have been able to do so? Where would he be now?

And in addition to that: If you don't learn the principles underneath, you will only ever be a user. With proprietary software that's exactly where the vendors want you. With free software you have the option to do as deep and into as many details as you want to learn, to modify and to share.

Author's note by foobar, on 25-Jan-2008 05:25

Kevin Daly: Sure, things can be mutually benefitial. However, what do you want to accomplish with your students? Do you want to train them to become just users, or do you want to teach an understanding of principles? I'm not saying that each student has to become a programmer. But teaching them one particular eco-system of software, one particular vendor's way of doing things is not helping them to grow and learn.

Also, you said that it would be good for them to be 'trained' in the most common use on real world desktops, then pointing out that this is Microsoft. Well, with this strategy Microsoft certainly wants to make sure that it stays that way.

It's a good move for Microsoft, but by agreeing to something like this, we can clearly see that we are ony furthering their monopoly. And we should be aware of that.

Comment by William, on 25-Jan-2008 13:16

I agree completely - that we need to be very wary of the apparent philanthropy of any large organisation which needs to protect it's nearly saturated market share.

The point made about Microsoft being the most commonly used software on desktops worldwide is, while accurate, a little forgetful, I think. That is, it wasn't always, and certainly hasn't got where it is today through amazing innovation and technical excellence - but through underhand, self-serving tactics such as this one.

One can only hope that, through being 'trained to use Microsoft' products, that the trainees (students and teachers alike) will get first hand experience of how much they dislike the software and begin to actively look at alternatives. ;-p

foobar's profile

New Zealand

  • Who I am: Software developer and consultant.
  • What I do: System level programming, Linux/Unix. C, C++, Java, Python, and a long time ago even Assembler.
  • What I like: I'm a big fan of free and open source software. I'm Windows-free, running Ubuntu on my laptop. To a somewhat lesser degree, I also follow the SaaS industry.
  • Where I have been: Here and there, all over the place.

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