There have been many wars in the past – over Land, Resources, People and Religion. Battlefields have been spread across all parts of the world, from South Asia to Europe, from East Asia to America, from the Middle East to Latin America.
The next major battlefield is going to be Business, and the next big war is going to be over Software.
Software is the Oxygen of Business. Software powers business and is at the heart of enterprises more than at any time before. The investments in technology over the past decade have helped managers get better insights into their businesses, and get them faster. The Internet has only helped accelerate this trend. eBusiness, the new mantra, is more about software than anything else.
Why then is legal Software so expensive? Consider Microsoft’s Windows and Office software packages. Together, they cost about Rs 20,000 in India. This year, about 1.8 million PCs will be sold in India. If every computer had a legal copy of MS-Windows and MS-Office, that would be a cost of Rs 3,600 crores (USD 720 million). Almost all software is imported from the likes of companies like Microsoft, Oracle, Adobe, SAP, PeopleSoft, and others. Software sold in countries like India is the dollar price multiplied by the exchange rate and then some.
I recently bought a copy of Jack Welch’s autobiography “Jack: Straight from the Gut”. Strand Boom Shop in Mumbai was selling the paperback edition within a week of its release in the US for Rs 350 (USD 7). The printed price on the book was USD 18 (Rs 900). Obviously, the publishers had a special price for India (and perhaps other such markets). Many technical books have lower-priced editions for sale only in India or South Asia. What differs is perhaps the quality of paper on which the book is published.
But, there are no “Eastern Economy Editions” of software. This will not happen, because unlike books which have atoms, software is just bits and bytes. It is hard to take books in India and re-sell them in markets like the US, because the cost of shipping is prohibitive. That’s not the case in software, which can easily be duplicated and distributed electronically. The world’s software companies (most of which are headquartered in the US) will not do anything to upset the gravy train which comes from markets like US, Europe and Japan for possible crumbs from markets like India.
For companies and individuals in India, buying Software today is like paying Lagaan (tax).
Software needs to become like Water and Electricity: available to all, cost-effectively.
Software needs to become a utility.