I had a very interesting conversation tonight regarding Bill Gates and his philanthropy. I'm not quite sure how it began, but I commented how that despite South Africa having an Open Source Software project in place, Microsoft were able to come in with an offer of their software, and take out the OpenSource installation.
Now who's fault is that? I think we don't give enough credit to the actual African governments for accepting the offer as much as we do to Mr Gates for making the offer. Sure, Africa needs a 'home grown' IT sector - but really - is it more important than setting up an infrastructure (no matter how proprietary it may be) to help fix problems now. Sure - linux works. I promote it. However, until we see more and more companies/individuals in the developed world using it as their #1 choice of operating system, it's rather silly trying to promote its usage elsewhere.
The OLPC project is a fantastic project, and I really like the idea that it's based on Linux. To me, that's important. Free Software - to me - is important. However, allowing people the chance to live, is more important than free software. I'd rather be able to hand someone bottles of water, than a copy of the OpenCD. Sure - the openCD is useful, but we're not at that stage of development yet. We need eduction, food and housing first. The whole point of the OLPC isn't the fact that we're giving Africa Linux (though you'd be surprised that some people think so) - it's about giving the african youngsters the ability to learn. IT isn't the important thing - it's the Value Added.
Mr B. Gates.
A pillar of wealth. He has created a massive worldwide brand over the last 30 years. To reach so many people and make such a difference must be a fantastic achievement - and credit where credits due - he's had a massive impact worldwide. The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation does fantastic work for malaria in Africa - and Bill has really given a lot of money to good causes. Should Bill have this money to spend? Should he have been taxed correctly so that the money could be spent where educated government officials knew where to spend? Or should he have the freedom to keep it all to himself (the greedy pig).
Well, read the last paragraph, and now look at it this way. Bill Gates is spending billions on helping people on the front lines in Africa.. whereas the U.S. government (where the money would have gone, probably) are busy fighting wars all over the place. Where should the money have gone?
Now, I know that many people feel that Microsoft is a nasty monopoly (as I do) - but I think there's a bigger lesson to be learnt. If we work at making a free and open computer world in the 'civilized world' then the benefits will be felt in less advantaged places when they are developed enough to learn from it. Rather than focus on the tiny details - lets focus on the processes and steps that need to be taken in order to develop Africa. If we can provide them with free and open source tools to do that - then all the better (like the OLPC) - but we need to look at the added value.
Taking a completely sane view of the situation, there are many flaws in a windows desktop - sure. However, we need to accept that Mixed Environment Computing has it's place. MS can't be usurped by linux. However, there is a rather ironic shift happening.
Take a look at the site referenced at the top of the page. Read the message - and agree. It's got a valid aim, and reputable people backing the project. 'The Elders' are probably going to do some really good things for the world - maybe even some great things. Take 10 minutes to watch the video.
I hope you have watched the video - if not, the it was a speech by Nelson Mandela (the transcript is linked on the left). In it, he talks about what the elders much undertake, and that we must show each other ubuntu. This doesn't mean that we all grab the latest release of Gutsy Gibbon and say 'GNU.' - it means that we should show humanity and understanding to others (even Microsoft). Let's not just be destroyers of information and progress (for what else does software ultimately do but store, process and organise information), but let us add value in what we do. Sure, this value added may mean freeing up codecs, and allowing more people access to information - and the solution to that may be to use free software - but please - let's prioritise the issues.
I know this is probably not the most powerful argument you will have read - but I can only strengthen the argument by knowing more points for both sides of the equation - if you would like to point me towards more information or an alternative view then I'd be happy to hear from you (please use the comments box, then everyone can benefit from your knowledge).
* this post makes no bearing on the use of MS products in the 'developed world' - but simply a 'ramble' on ignoring the positives of using MS software in the developing world.