Bill Gates announced at last week’s Microsoft Government Leaders Forum in Beijing that Microsoft will be offering its software to students in developing countries for just a few dollars. Developing country governments will be able to buy the Student Innovation Suite for $3 per student, thereby subsidising the cost of PCs for potentially billions of users.
Microsoft describes its move as promoting “sustained social and economic opportunity”. But this apparently philanthropic act – which undoubtedly has market expansion at its heart – is likely to play a powerful role in shaping debates on open source software and state procurement policy on proprietary software.
Microsoft critics view the announcement as a threat to recognising the potential of open source software. I also fear that this seemingly lucrative offer could slow down the pace of developing nations’ commitment towards open source software, which started as a way to minimise software procurement cost and maximise the localisation of language and content.