Reality Check

Jason Hiner at Tech Republic has written an article entitled “How Microsoft beat Linux in China and what it means for freedom, justice, and the price of software.” He contends that Microsoft’s ‘victory’ over Linux in China is total.

But what kind of a victory are we talking about here? Well, they gave away access to their crown jewels, the source code:

“In 2003, Microsoft began a program that allowed select partners to view the source code of Windows, and even make some modifications. China was one of 60 countries invited to join the program.”

They cut prices drastically:

“Microsoft got serious about competing on price by offering the Chinese government its Windows and Office software for an estimated $7-$10 per seat (in comparison to $100-$200 per seat in the U.S., Europe, and other countries).”

And they caved completely on piracy and so-called Intellectual Property enforcement:

“Microsoft’s initial strategy was to work to get intellectual property laws enforced in China, but that was an unmitigated disaster. Microsoft realized that it was powerless to stop widespread piracy in China, so it simply threw up the white flag.”

So what exactly did Microsoft win, again? This article is rife with untested assumptions. Let’s establish a bit of context here before going too far.

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Randall Biliki, 1963 – 2007

I just found out at Randall Biliki has died, apparently murdered in an attack on his family.

I met Randall for a brief time, when he came to Vanuatu to help get the ball rolling on our leg of the People First Network. He was a conscientious, quiet individual whose intelligence quickly made itself shown through the clarity of his questions and comments. He was always tactful and soft-spoken, so perfectly disarming that I thought he was one of those people who would always sail through smooth waters.

I’m going to Honiara next month for the annual PACINET conference, a regional ICT get-together sponsored by the Pacific Islands Chapter of the Internet Society (PICISOC). I was really looking forward to buying him a beer (he didn’t like the kava at all). Now I’ll have to go and pay my respects to his family, if they haven’t fled Honiara.

A note about PFNet – they were virtually the only media presence on the ground during the civil strife in the Solomon Islands, and their Internet cafĂ© was for some time the sole means of communication with the outside world for a number of people.

Randall, David Leeming, David Ma’ai and many others created a viable nation-wide communications network using technology that most others thought beneath them. Comparing their approach[*] with, for example, an Asian Development Bank-funded telecentre (at USD 125,000 a pop) provides an object lesson in sensible, sustainable development.

People often toss about the phrase ‘He will be missed‘ when speaking of the dead. But Randall’s death does exact a price. It can be measured directly in the ability of people on some of the remotest islands of the world to speak with one another.

This is probably the final straw for the Vanuatu extension of the project. Randall was to have come in and help run things for the first six months. I honestly don’t know how it can get off the ground without him around.


Ever since I arrived in Vanuatu almost four years ago, I’ve woken every morning to the rhythmic shushing of the scrub brush as the women in the neighbourhood do the morning wash. It’s often the last thing I hear before sundown as well.

Anyone who’s ever washed their clothes by hand knows just how arduous the process is. Most of the women in Vanuatu have extremely well-defined arm muscles, and many of the older women on the islands are built like wrestlers. Laundry is one of the reasons why.

When Georgeline approached me some time ago with the news that she’d begun participating in a micro-finance scheme, I encouraged her to do so, and immediately began wracking my brains for an activity that would allow her to earn money and still take care of little Daniela full-time. I tossed out an idea or two, but nothing that seemed very compelling. Georgeline was patient with me, and waited for me to wind down before telling me that she already knew what she wanted to do. She wanted to buy a washing machine, and charge the local women to use it.

How very stupid of me not to have thought of it before.

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