CyberTech Rambler

October 20, 2005

It is expertise that counts

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:01 pm

ZDNet carries a story where Microsoft’s Nigeria Manager argues that cost is not as important as the expertise to use a piece of software.

He is right and wrong at the same time. He is right because expertise is needed to make the most out of the software you use. To support this point I will point out that people pay good money to have experts create templates for the word processing documents for them, and there are courses on advance use of software which charges a lot of money. I use GIMP but find myself unable to do a lot of fancy stuff with my image precisely because I do not have the technical expertise on manipulating images (and of course, my lack of artistic talent does not help). Savvy readers will immediately note that I am only talking about a small high end of the market which is not representative of how most people use software. Nonetheless, the proliferation of IT colleges that offers introductory and intermediate course on computers, especially Office productivity software such as Word Processor, spreadsheet and presentation software, definitely point to the fact that having a piece of software is not as important as the ability (expertise) to use it.

He is wrong because cost do matters, especially in a country where the average wage is too low to even afford a computer and pay of any software to use on it. Access to software and expertise in using them goes hand-in-hand. I had argued that expertise is needed to use a piece of software. Conversely, if users cannot afford access to the software, any expertise to use that software is useless and moot.

Since Mr Ilukwe (The Microsoft Manager in question) insists that cost is not a matter but expertise is and Microsoft is “sharing expertise” with Africa. I am going to post him this question: “What is the point of sharing expertise when the receivers is not able to use the expertise as he cannot afford it?”. I understand that Microsoft’s purpose, like that of any companies, is to increase the value of their product. However, it is also necessary to make sure one’s product is accessible to the people one “share” expertise with.

Hence, here is my most drastic viewpoint to any software company that “share” expertise knowing fully well that the recipient cannot afford the product to exercise that expertise *and* takes no steps in making their product affordable: YOU ARE ENCOURAGING PIRACY OF YOUR PRODUCT. I just hope one day you reaped what you sowed.

That is my cue to start my rambling about Free Software. If it is not already clear to the readers, my argument here is that sharing and building expertise in Free Software is one that allows the recipients to be able to exercise and demonstrate their expertise, as the recipients have access to the software. If I were the government of a developing country that really have its people interests at heart and is working towards giving them better access to ICT and training local expertise, I will choose Free Software, especially when I cannot see how the non-free versions can be afforded by the majority of my citizens for a foreseeable future.

Other articles which explains the situation better than me:

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