Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Linux in International Politics

It is interesting to hear that Bill Gates, Chairman and Chief Scientist of Microsoft, is trying to set up a meeting with the head of the state of Brazil, one of the largest economies of the world. This is especially interesting in light of the recent push from Brazil in promoting open source. If you have to put a face to the groups that oppose Linux for business reasons, Mr Gates is the likeliest candidate. As the largest stock holder of Microsoft which helps him be the richest American, anything that potentially affects Microsoft market share affects him directly.

We can easily divide the large economies in the world as pro-Linux and anti-Linux based on how much they benefit from Microsoft. Countries like China, Brazil, and large parts of European Union which end up being net consumers of software products prefer the free open source products over the lock-in from Microsoft. On the other end of the spectrum are countries like India which continue to be net exporters of software, primarily services. There was a time when Indian government was pushing Linux in its e-Government initiatives, and then Mr Gates made his famous visit and made them see reason. Microsoft services bring in more money than Linux services do. India would be better off with Microsoft products ruling the world, than Linux. At least until the domestic industry catches up so that it becomes a net user of software.

At that time, we may see similar initiatives from Indian government like China pushing Red Flag.

Countries like Israel which tend to generate software products at a higher level of food chain and would probably win whether they do so for Microsoft or Linux, don't probably care as much when Israel government decides to push for Linux.

In this context, Gates' meeting with Brazil government may be quite significant for Microsoft. This has to be a tough year for Microsoft. First their long standing supporter, the governor of Washington finally loses to his democratic opponent by 200 or so votes out of millions cast. Next Linux appears to miraculously survive the threat from SCO despite celebrity lawyers practically taking over that company. Then Longhorn gets delayed in the midst of regular worms and viruses continuing to get front page mentions around the world.

This also brings to light the significance of fundamental differences between open source and closed source products. The 'closed products' tend to create an ecosystem based on profit, while open source tends to eschew that (jury is still out on JBoss and MySQL). With big companies like HP and IBM behind it, Linux could end up creating a community that also makes money, even more money than a Microsoft employee would make for example. That would turn the tide against MS in the governments of countries that benefit from software services today. And even encourage large companies like Infosys to eschew free licenses from Microsoft and go back to Linux! The open source movement needs all those brains behind it to succeed in creating a large business.


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March 23, 2006 at 2:37 AM  

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