A Question of Access

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2007-06-07 Print this article Print

But access remains the biggest single challenge facing people in the region, people from Microsoft and the African Development Bank told me: access to not just the technologies themselves, but also the issue of the affordability of the hardware and software, and the knowledge to use these tools. Thats where Microsofts Unlimited Potential initiative comes in, which is about helping individuals and communities around the world globe achieve their goals through access to relevant and affordable technologies, thereby enabling new avenues of social and economic opportunity, particularly for the estimated 5 billion people that have yet to realize the benefits of technology.
In April, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates announced new products and programs under the banner of the Unlimited Potential initiative. A critical component of the initiative is the Microsoft Student Innovation Suite, a software package that includes Windows XP Starter Edition, Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007, Microsoft Math 3.0, Learning Essentials 2.0 for Microsoft Office, and Windows Live Mail desktop.
The suite will be available in the second half of 2007 for a cost of $3 each to qualifying governments in eligible countries that buy and supply Windows PCs directly to primary and secondary students for their personal use at home and for school work. For Orlando Ayala, the senior vice president of Microsofts new Emerging Segments Market Development Group, the goal is enabling sustained social and economic opportunity for 5 billion people. "This is an issue of sustainability. Thats why, when people talk about Linux, I dont get emotional. This is about creating sustainable, long-term systems that allow you to propel society forward. This is about building for the long term and empowering the community," he has told me. Microsoft also cant control what software and systems these new users will choose over time, he says, noting that the ultimate outcomes will speak to the effectiveness of the program. Asked why a company like Microsoft is getting involved in what could be seen as a large-scale humanitarian or charitable effort and not a business investment, Ayala said there is a strong business case to be made for such moves. "Despite the skepticism that exists, I believe we have to try," he says. But it is a tough challenge, as Microsoft faces the risk that this effort will not be perceived as truly generous but rather more as a Trojan horse, of trying to get a foot in the door so it can exploit these markets later, Roger Kay, the president of research group Endpoint Technologies Associates, told me at the time of the announcement. "Microsoft is simply taking a page from Gates and his foundation and is now "using some of that extraordinary windfall [from its Windows-Office franchise] to buy back the reputation. Its generosity, but generosity with a purpose. Its generosity, but its also good business," he said. If what I saw in Burkina Faso is anything to go by, Microsoft and its potential partners have their work cut out for them. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at www.eweek.com.


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