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Emerging markets will be a match for Microsoft

Microsoft international head has a tough job, convincing nations to buy more Windows

It is surely coincidence that on the same week in which Microsoft named the new president of its international operations with special responsibility for government and emerging markets, the government of a major emerging market — although it might think of itself as something more than a commercial opportunity — declared it is ready to roll out Linux to 10,000 of its schools.

This South Korean project is typical of many similar schemes being promoted by governments not so much on ideological grounds as pure pragmatism. In the case of South Korea, security and cost prompted the project, alongside the importance of local support. Jin Ko Hyun, the man responsible, stressed that there was no deliberate snubbing going on; this is not personal, it's business.

We hear a similar refrain from Brazil and many other emerging markets; open source leads to lower costs, better security and more local development.

It all spells trouble for Jean-Philippe Courtois, who has a tough job ahead of him. He has the unenviable task of increasing the use of Microsoft software and decreasing the proportion used without a licence. Governments, he says, must put a stake in the ground and make sure their own employees only use licensed copies. This is an entirely reasonable request, but if the pain of switching to open source software is lower than the pain of finding budget to pay for those licences, then guess which way governments will go?

Courtois says that this autumn we can expect to see new incentives to encourage good behaviour: extra free software, services and security patches for those who are fully licensed. It will undoubtedly have some effect, but cynics will point to Microsoft's many philanthropic efforts which, while substantial, have a knack of kicking off at politically expedient times. And emerging markets will continue to point to open source software as a real, pragmatic alternative.