Shades of Kafka
The one note of hope in this story is that Russian President Vladimir Putin has reportedly expressed anger concerning the twisted legal logic displayed in the Ponosov case. According to a BBC report, Putin called on investigators to "go after the distributors, not the users." There was a time in Russia when a word from the nation's supreme leader was enough to send citizens to the firing squad or free them from the gulags. But Russia is now reputed to be a nation of laws not personalities. So Ponosov may find himself languishing in jail while he waits for the wheels of justice to grind to a conclusion.Microsoft's attitude in this case is strange and perplexing. Presumably the company is so happy that Russian prosecutors are doing anything to combat software piracy that it won't dare to express regret that a confused middle school principal is going to prison for buying PCs loaded with bogus software.If investigators took a close look at the PC distribution network in Russia, especially in the country's vast hinterlands, they would likely discover that consumers like Ponosov would be hard pressed to find any new computers that were loaded with certified genuine Microsoft software. In fact that they would probably have a hard time even determining whether the software loaded on their newly-purchased hardware was bona fide. So what should Microsoft do about this? It would help if it was willing to take another look at this pathetic case and see if there is a way to give the poor principal a break. It could be that as far as the Russian criminal justice system is concerned, nothing that Bill Gates might say would make any difference in Ponosov's case. However, this case might actually prove to be a business and philanthropic opportunity for Gates and his charitable foundation. There might be a way for Microsoft as well as other software and hardware vendors to work with the Russian government and the private sector to see what needs to be done to build modern distribution channels throughout the country. This might actually increase the chances that consumers will be able to buy new computers that contain properly licensed software. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation might find its way clear to donate PCs to some of those remote Russian school districts. This would help educate kids about the amazing things computers can do and train a rising generation of more affluent Russians who would be in a better position to afford genuine Microsoft products. Such an effort might even convince a certain Russian middle school principal that his attempt to provide basic computing resources for his students wasn't a futile nightmare after all. John Pallatto is a veteran journalist in the field of enterprise software and Internet technology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis about productivity and business solutions.