Bill Gates is all for the poor: Now he tells us

Bill Gates has suddenly got a big heart, but he still doesn't understand the right way to help them.

I have to admit that I found the irony stifling in this CNET article on Bill Gates and his efforts to bring compassion for the poor to capitalism. Gates, who for years resisted pricing Microsoft's software lower for developing markets has suddenly become a big believer in helping the poor.

In every industry, Gates said, businesses need to start thinking about how they can use some of their energy and resources, say 6 percent, to expand their reach to poorer segments either in their own country, or globally. Food companies need to focus on micronutrients, while drug companies should devote some energy to diseases that affect largely the poor, such as malaria and tuberculosis.

But not in software, apparently. It wasn't until 2004 that Microsoft - more in response to the need to fight Linux and piracy than any increase in the size of its heart - started to lower its pricing for markets like Indonesia. Until that point Microsoft continued to price its software above the annual wages of people in these developing markets.

I'm glad that Gates sees the light now. I just wish he wouldn't have spent decades overpricing his software for the poor.

And I still wish that his company would recognize that more than cheap software, developing markets need to own the foundations of their own software, rather than shipping rubles, rupiahs, etc. back to the United States. They need open source so that they can create new software economies locally.

How about a little open source, Mr. Gates?

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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