A Healthy, Helpful Epidemic

by Phil Hughes

Why are we about negative on Windoze XP? This morning I received e-mail from an friend who uses MS Windows. His systems had another crash and lost a lot of data. It made me realize that I really like Windows XP with it's new invasive licensing schemes.

My friend's biggest problem was that he lost his pirated copy of Adobe Photoshop. Without really thinking about all the ramifications, I suggested he get the GIMP instead--because it was free.

Next I received e-mail from a friend in Costa Rica who works for the government. A co-worker sent him a copy of a message from a Microsoft person suggesting that the number of licenses they had didn't match their number of users, and it needed to be addressed. This request offers motivation to decrease the number of users of Microsoft software there.

Then I got to thinking. Many people pick commercial software because, well, it is easy to steal. It gets marketed, so they know it exists. Then they find someone or somewhere that they can "borrow" it from.

Another data point was from El Salvador. There used to be two Linux users registered with the Linux Counter. Microsoft did a license crack-down and the number jumped to 141.

If commercial software vendors did their job better--that is, enforced their licensing--it could help the free software movement a lot. We owe it to the computer users of the world to stop complaining about restrictive licenses for Microsoft software, and get on with the development of open solutions.

Before you say there is no chance for income in free software, let me address that. First, computers need to come from somewhere. Someone needs to install those machines, train users and support the system.

In Costa Rica, for example, the Caja (the Costa Rican equivalent of the US's Social Security Administration) pays about $1,000,000 per year to Microsoft for support. While that may not sound like a lot of money to the billionaire who lives across the lake from me, it is a lot of money for a country whose population is the same as the state of Washington and dependent on Intel's manufacturing plant and food exports for much of their GNP.

That $1,000,000, recycled back to the hands of locals who could support free software, would be a step in the right direction for their economy. Further, the result would be more people trained to use and maintain free software. Thus, that initial change in one agency in a small Central American country could start a free software epidemic in Latin America.

I know I'm ready to help.

Phil Hughes is the publisher of Linux Journal.

email: phil@ssc.com

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