Bill Gates Pumps Money into India, Education, Localization

Some see GNU/Linux as the motivating factor.

When Richard M. Stallman's visit to India coincided with Bill Gates' trip here in early November, there naturally were some fireworks. Although the big story was the money Gates pledged to donate to India, ideals from the Free/Libre and open-source software world have had an impact.

During his trip, Stallman maintained a low profile and took a largely volunteer-supported visit of India, even while the ideas he spends a lifetime to uphold kept getting bounced back and forth across this vast country.

Gates, meanwhile, hogged the headlines with his millions of dollars donation to battle AIDS. Mainstream journalists fell over each other to get a wide range of stories from different parts of the country about the doings and sayings of the world's richest man.

Behind the scenes, however, a fascinating debate was underway. It came up mainly on the Internet, via mailing-lists, and from those who disagree strongly with the software path charted by Gates.

Obviously this debate has strong implications for the future of India's software industry. For a country that sees itself as a software-superpower in the making, the question of which path to choose presents a dilemma.

During his trip, Gates downplayed the challenge Microsoft faces from GNU/Linux. But one thing seems clear: the Microsoft emphasis on education and localization is aimed at taking on fields where GNU/Linux campaigners have been working already, areas where they have accumulated appreciable interest.

Handouts

In India, the Microsoft Corporation chairman outlined a long list of monetary handouts.

  • $20 million to develop India's Shiksha edtech training programme (which has an ambitious target of training more than 80,000 teachers and 3.5 million students over several years);

  • $1 million to MIT's Media Lab Asia project;

  • a $25 million, five-year grant for a children's vaccine programme against Hepatitis B in the southern Andhra Pradesh state; and

  • $100 million to battle AIDS in India.

When meeting with journalists, Gates was asked whether his philanthropic activities are connected to operations of his company. He denied this connection, arguing that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is "completely independent" from his company.

In New Delhi, however, the Microsoft chief also unveiled an ambitious plan to invest $400 million in India for education, software localization and development. The $400 million donation will be invested over the next three years, Gates announced at a function to launch the Tablet PC.

Contending that it is important to localize software in India, Gates announced plans to market Microsoft XP and Office 11--code name: cash cow--in such Indian languages as Hindi, Bengali and Malayalam. Future plans include extended the localization efforts to nine more Indian languages in 2003. Work on this project is underway at Microsoft's development centre in Hyderabad.

Linked with GNU/Linux Challenge

That Gates' approach is clearly linked to the growing GNU/Linux campaigns in India is more than clear. Rajesh Mahapatra, writing for the Associated Press, commented, "Hoping to stave off a rise in the popularity of free, open-source software, Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates has announced a $400-million-US investment in India." He went on to say, "The three-year initiative--part philanthropy, part business boost--seeks to entrench products of the world's dominant software company in schools and among India's multitude of talented programmers."

During his trip, Gates sought to underplay India's increased support for GNU/Linux. He argued that Microsoft's Windows remains far ahead of its competition. But the Associated Press reports otherwise: "Indian software companies are increasingly opting for Linux. Users say they prefer the open-source system because its basic code is non-proprietary, can be freely modified and makes better sense for the developing world than Windows."

In an attempt to blunt criticism about proprietary software over-charging developing countries, Gates has argued that its prices are adjusted to be "appropriate to different segments".

Microsoft--having perhaps belatedly realized the importance of catching students young, after a number of GNU/Linux school projects were reported even in Indian locations like Goa, Delhi and Kerala--now talks about charging "less" or "nothing" for software used in education.

One educator from an engineering college in India confided to this writer that moves were afoot to push Windows harder in education. He commented, on condition of anonymity

We are in the process of acquiring an MSDN Academic Alliance--available for educational institutes only. It costs around 799$ per year and gives full access to [an] OS and programs for entire institute, including an unlimited number of copies. It is useful for students (as the course curriculum involves MS tools) and for the industry too at present. Career-minded [people] still persist with MS.

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Re: Bill Gates Pumps Money into India, Education, Localization

Anonymous's picture

Respected Sir,

Myself Nisar Ahmed run a computer training centre at calcutta though the institute is government registered we hardly get any donation from the government.

This institute provides education to poor class families who cannot efford to pay the expensive course at niit or aptech.

Hence with a due regard i on behalf of society request you to please make a donation to our society

Thanking you,

your's faithfully

nisar ahmed

E-mail:- nisarrrrrr@yahoo.com

India takes a step to handle it's own problems without outside h

Anonymous's picture

Most third-world countries are duped into thinking that they need outside help from bigger countries and organizations to handle their problems. In most cases it never occurs to anyone that when a country takes steps to handle it's own affairs without requesting or requiring the help of anyone else then they put themselves in a position to NOT BE THE EFFECT of that other entity.

Microsoft (and Mr. Bill) have obviously made a push to dupe this effort because India has made a decision that will keep them off the leash of larger corporations.

I have to admire any country that's willing to take steps to handle it's own problems rather than depend on someone else doing everything for them -- depending on others can get addictive -- and dangerous.

As far as I'm concerned Microsoft is offering no solution at all, simply another obstacle. This is pretty typical for those seeking to actually confront and handle their problems, a situation always arises to thwart that attempt. Microsoft is no exception.

J.C.

Tujunga, CA. USA

Re: India takes a step to handle it's own problems without outsi

Anonymous's picture

This is just greasing the palms of the Indian government to get access to their cheap labor force.

Re: Bill Gates Pumps Money into India, Education, Localization

Anonymous's picture

We all have seen the open source revolution and what it did to America. Despite the fact that major companies still resort to relying on microsoft products, there is still a large portion of people in this industry that believe in open source programming and free software. Even if India does decide to become "Microsoft Dependent," the open source revolution will still remain active and very much a part of computing in that area.

Re: Bill Gates Pumps Money into India, Education, Localization

Anonymous's picture

So, do all you nay sayers feel that BillG should have not given any money at all? Would you give the $100 Million back, instead of fighting AIDS with it?

You people are pathetic.

Re: Bill Gates Pumps Money into India, Education, Localization

Anonymous's picture

What a fool!

The idea of Bill Gates giving money for the fight against Aids is rather kind of him.... but you don't get something for nothing. All he is trying to do is a little sweetener (or a rather big one!). He is the Sadam of the PC World..

And he is a *****!

BillGates

Re: Bill Gates Pumps Money into India, Education, Localization

Anonymous's picture

In the little knowledge that I have of this industry, what I do know for sure is that in the past decades, some of the most significant developments in computer science has come from an *open* process of cooperation together with deep government involvement. This is how the Internet was born.

In india, they understand this process too well.

Re: Nothing new

Anonymous's picture

Gates is just joining the crowd of sleazy first worlders trying to extort

money out of people for things they used to be able to get for free.

It's happened with water, breast milk / formula, basic foods, fuels, and

just about everything else. Why not software?

Don't worry, the people he's underestimating are way too smart to

let this happen anyway.

Re: And as soon as his back is turned...

Anonymous's picture

We all have seen the open source revolution and what it did to America. Despite the fact that major companies still resort to relying on microsoft products, there is still a large portion of people in this industry that believe in open source programming and free software. Even if India does decide to become "Microsoft Dependent," the open source revolution will still remain active and very much a part of computing in that area.

Re: And as soon as his back is turned...

Anonymous's picture

I guess the sky is not falling, after all...

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