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Damned if you do, damned if you don’t 26 August, 2006

Posted by Jay Ball in software.
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Microsoft announced on Friday that it’s launching versions of Windows and Office in the Incan language in Bolivia. This promises to help close the digital divide between the 2.5 million Quenchan speakers (about a third of the population) and the better supported Spanish speakers in the country.

If we are to see technology as a force for good (which personally I do) then opening up access is fundamental to success. This is an area where open source has promised so much (and delivered reasonably well all things considered). Because users have access to the code, they can tweak it for specialist use and port it into new languages (if they have the skills themselves of course).

But, of course, Microsoft’s software isn’t cheap. This was highlighted in a quote from Bolivia’s Foreign Minister, David Choquehuanca:

“We congratulate Microsoft for having facilitated the use of computers in our own languages, but we have to advance toward systems that are more open because we still have to pay a license fee (to use the software) to Microsoft.”

Bolivia is not a rich country. It’s some $6b in debt. Almost two thirds of the population live beneath the poverty line. And the Quencha are  among the poorest groups. Given these factors, paying out for expensive licenses (even if they are in your native language) is unlikely to be an option.
You have to applaud Microsoft’s initiative. Its software is still the dominant force in business and giving minority groups access to it can only help improve their opportunities. All we need now is a free developing world edition that delivers enough functionality to make a difference without bankrupting the user in the process.
Source: Reuters

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