October 18, 2005 8:51 AM PDT

Microsoft: In Africa, cost isn't the only thing

The price of software is just one issue for the developing world to consider as it takes up high tech, according to a pair of Microsoft executives.

Gerald Ilukwe, the general manager of Microsoft Nigeria, said that although the average annual salary in the West African country is only $160, software cost is not what's important.

"It's easy to focus on cost, but at the end of the day, it's the total impact that's important. You can give people free software or computers, but they won't have the expertise to use it," Ilukwe said in response to a question on the role of open-source software in Africa. "Microsoft is not a helicopter dropping relief materials; we're there in the field."

Neil Holloway, the president of Microsoft for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said training in IT skills is the most important issue in emerging markets.

"It's not about the cost of the software, it's about how you take your expertise to people. We are sharing our expertise, particularly with governments in emerging markets. Cost is not the barrier here--expertise is," Holloway said.

Ilukwe and Holloway were speaking to ZDNet UK last week, after an event at the Nigerian Embassy in London looking into the software maker's efforts to fight Internet fraud.

But Microsoft also recognizes that price sensitivity is a factor for both individuals and governments in many countries. It has begun shipping low-cost versions of the Windows operating system, in conjunction with new PCs, in emerging markets such as India, Thailand, Brazil and Mexico. The pricing is seen as a way to entice people away from pirated software, as well as a counterweight against open-source software, which can be had for little or no cost.

The open-source Linux operating system is a key element in an effort to get $100 laptops into the hands of children in developing nations.

Microsoft is involved in a number of training activities in Africa, including the Partners in Learning program, which helps train teachers in computer skills, and the Nepad eSchools project, which supplies schools across Africa with computers, software, training, networking, connectivity, maintenance and support.

But the software maker is not the only organization involved in IT training in Africa. There are a number of organizations that run open-source software training projects across the continent, including SchoolNet Namibia, The Shuttleworth Foundation and the East African Center for Open Source Software.

Ingrid Marson of ZDNet UK reported from London.

 

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