The lead story in today’s Economic Times has a story on Microsoft’s apparent willingness to share its Windows source with one government body. “The nature of the body has not been spelt out; it will presumably be worked out after discussions between the company and the government officials. Interestingly, the offer comes at a time when state governments are showing interest in rival Linux operating system as the latter’s source code is free and downloadable from the internet.”, writes the paper.
It is hard to see what difference this will make. The fundamental issue in the Microsoft-Linux battle is that of cost, not about sharing of source code. Emerging markets like India cannot afford the dollar-based software pricing of Windows and other applications. They need cheaper alternatives, and that is where Linux and its suite of applications in the form of Evolution, Mozilla and OpenOffice (among others) comes in. The issue at heart is not being pouring over source code, but looking to see how the cost of computing (hardware and software) can be brought down by a factor of 10 to make it affordable for the mass-market at the bottom of the pyramid.
If Microsoft is really serious, it should cut prices of Windows and Office by 80-90% for emerging markets like India. That is something which should make headlines, not stories like this which simply confuse and sidetrack the core issue of cost and affordability. If the choice if between cost and source code, the Indian government should pick cost.
Create a viable alternative to Microsoft’s platforms and see how Microsoft will be forced to drop prices in order to compete. This is the opportunity that India has – it can set up a precedent for the other emerging markets by announcing official support for Linux and open-source, and making it the primary selection for all computers purchased by the government. This will have knock-on effect down the line and create the cost-effective computing solutions that India so desperately needs. Remember: Infotech (especially software) is the oil of the 21st century.