Is Free Software the future of India? Steve Ballmer CEO of Microsoft answers...

November 13, 2006
The solemn occasion was the talk show hosted by NDTV 24x7 - a premier cable television news channel in India. And the discussion centered on the topic - "Bridging the digital divide between the urban rich and rural poor in India". The panel composed of distinguished personalities including Steve Ballmer - the CEO of Microsoft, N.R. Narayana Murthy - Chairman of Infosys Technologies, Ashok Jhunjunwala professor of Electrical Engineering from IIT Chennai and Malvinder Mohan Singh - the chief executive and MD of Ranbaxy Laboratories. And the talk was hosted by NDTV's Prannoy Roy. The very first question that was asked off Steve Ballmer was the following: Is Free Software the future of India?

Taking care not to use the word(s) "Free software", Mr Ballmer conceded that a number of revenue streams including those by selling hardware, internet connectivity and software are important. He went on to say, "As rich and good be bridging the digital divide, software companies should look forward to three or four sources of income. Many revenues for software companies will come from not any one thing but will include subscription fees, lower cost hardware, advertising and of course traditional transaction (read proprietary software)". He does agree that "prices must come down" though it was plain to see him take care not to use the word "FREE" in his answer.

Another question that was posed to him was "Is bridging the rural divide all about money ?". Mr Ballmer answered by saying "It is not not about money but also not about short term profits". In short Microsoft is looking for long term profits.

And when asked , "American government spearheads democracy. Are the American businesses in tune with that?". He answered as follows: "Any multi-national should behave appropriately and lawfully in any country in which it does business. But our primary aim is to have a generally more helpful participation in world economy". He went on to say, "You can do three things ... you can stay in and do nothing, stay in and have a point of view or stay out".

Watching the talk show, I could not help thinking that Microsoft is more or less resigned to the fact that Open Source and Free Software is here to stay. And what ever one might do, you cannot easily wish it away. If you can't beat them, join them is the new mantra at Microsoft. The recent news of Microsoft's acquisition (sic) of (Um... partnership with) Novell being a case to the point. But I was left with the feeling that Microsoft needs to be honest and more outright in acknowledging the very important part that Free Software and Linux plays in the over all big picture in IT. Steve Ballmer was on a three day visit to India, his itinerary included calling on the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to discuss Microsoft's future plans for India.

8 comments:

  • GB

    Hi,
    Interesting article. Though I dint get to watch the talk show, I would request you to change IIT Chennai to IIT Madras. Being a student of IITM, I find it crazy why many people assume that the name of the institute has also changed. Its only the city whose name has changed. IIT Madras will always remain IIT Madtas. :) Sorry if I sound very picky here.

    Ganesh

  • Balmer's views make sense when you consider that not everybody can easily use a product like Linux even though it is "free". If you cannot compete even though you are offering your product for free then you need to take a look at the big picture. Maybe for the ordinary user, the cost benefits from using Linux aren't really that great? A decent computer costs around $500 and factoring in the cost of ease of use (availability of drivers for e.g) tells you why Linux will have a hard time competing against Microsoft.

  • OK, I must ask. Was the "to discuss Microsoft's future plans for India" phrasing intentional. I thought it quite funny when I read it....

  • Very nice of the interviewer to put ballmer on the spot like that.
    as more people realize free software is just as good as proprietary (or even realizing it exists) we're going to see m$'s profits and stock price take a dive.

    i've recently donated some time and old hardware from our company along w/ edubuntu installed for kids at our local battered women's shelter. couldn't have even afforded it w/ micro$oft.

  • Balmer's views make sense when you consider that not everybody can easily use a product like Linux even though it is "free". If you cannot compete even though you are offering your product for free then you need to take a look at the big picture.

    Free cost is not what Linux is all about. All software costs money and time. It's the freedom that's the important thing. So Linux has a cost, but the freedom and flexibility you get is more than worth it. Linux continues to gain momentum despite all efforts to slow it down... and despite Microsoft's complete lockdown on what operating system is pre-installed on every PC. The real computer revolution is just beginning.

  • i've recently donated some time and old hardware from our company along w/ edubuntu installed for kids at our local battered women's shelter. couldn't have even afforded it w/ micro$oft.


    M$FT would have given you the software. You should have asked instead of making assumptions.

    That aside, do keep up the good work.

  • jbmoore

    Microsoft plays to win. It's more about control and power than money. If they didn't have to worry about shareholders, than money wouldn't be an issue. If they have to break laws to win, they will. By the time the case gets to court they will have already won market share and destroyed the competitor of their choice. People are either blind or ignorant if they can't discern Microsoft's actions from their rhetoric. Also, you have to realize who Microsoft considers their customers. Microsoft's customers are the OEMs and billion dollar multinational corporations. Microsoft cares little about you or me, the man or woman on the street. We are sheep to be fleeced from what I can tell. That's a harsh assessment, but think about it. If you buy a Dell and Windows breaks, you don't call MS for support. You have to call the OEM because it's an OEM version of Windows despite the fact that Microsoft built 99% of the underlying software running that system. Who benefits besides Microsoft when they build a new OS, the OEMs, because the new OS requires more powerful hardware to run adequately.

    Instead of improving their code and optimizing what they have like Linux, they just add more features. And Linux is becoming like Windows to an extent. The fatal weakness of each OS is its drivers. Solaris is a more stable OS because it has a smaller number of drivers and the drivers are built for its SPARC hardware. Windows and Linux will fail more often because of poorly coded device drivers.

    That said, Linux will be much more stable than Windows because it has a much smaller code base and fewer and simpler drivers. This is the tradeoff between stability and the ability to run on most x86 hardware. Linux will float all boats, but Microsoft will only float those boats whose owners can afford it to summarize Doc Searls.

  • Add to that the political support Linux and Open Source has in states like Kerala.

    It will be hard time for the multinational corporations as the comrades of kerala.

    Great interesting things to watch out in 2007, 8 and 9.