Should the next billion just pay it forward?

It's said that when a doctor had a patient who couldn't afford his services, back in the day, he would take a chicken or some milk or a pie in exchange. Microsoft's offer is like that. But what if the doctor said, when your son is grown and a doctor like me, then he treats me free when I get sick. Or he treats someone else, free. Pay it forward, in other words.

I was listening to an NPR report yesterday about Microsoft's plan to deep discount Windows in Asia.

Peter Brown of the FSF was offering his "give a man a fish, teach a man to fish" analogy, about how much more powerful would it be for Asian users to control their software.

Then something hit me.

How would you like these 1 billion people to pay for the 21st century benefits they get from software and networks? Microsoft says a little cash would be nice. They note that most copies of Windows in Asia are pirated, so a little money from each user is better than none at all.

But how about being repaid in kind? If the next Asian Gates builds on Windows he or she will own the resulting code. If they build on open source they'll have to give it to us.

It's said that when a doctor had a patient who couldn't afford his services, back in the day, he would take a chicken or some milk or a pie in exchange. Microsoft's offer is like that.

But what if the doctor said, when your son is grown and a doctor like me, then he treats me free when I get sick. Or he treats someone else, free. Pay it forward, in other words. I'll get my chickens from those who can afford chickens.

So my question today is, which approach offers more value? The chicken goes to Microsoft, and if Microsoft is the platform then it deserves the chicken. But if we require, as open source requires, that innovation be paid for in kind, aren't we all getting a lot more than $3 back?

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