Microsoft: Africa doesn't need free software

You can give people free software, but they won't have the expertise to use it, says Microsoft Nigeria's manager

Microsoft has claimed the cost of software is not an important issue in the developing world.

In response to a question on the role of open source software in Africa, Gerald Ilukwe, the general manager of Microsoft Nigeria, said that cost is not important, even though he admitted that the average annual salary in the West African country is only $160 (£91).

"It's easy to focus on cost and say how much is a product, but at the end of the day it's the total impact that's important. You can give people free software or computers, but they won't have the expertise to use it," he said. "Microsoft is not a helicopter dropping relief materials; we're there in the field."

Neil Holloway, the president of Microsoft for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said that training in IT skills is the most important issue in emerging markets. Microsoft is involved in a number of training activities in Africa, including the Partners in Learning programme, which helps train teachers in computer skills, and the Nepad eSchools project, which supplies schools across Africa with computers, software, training, networking, connectivity, maintenance and support.

"It's not about the cost of the software, it's about how you take your expertise to people. We are sharing our expertise, particularly with governments in emerging markets. Cost is not the barrier here — expertise is," said Holloway.

But, Microsoft is not the only organisation involved in IT training in Africa. There are a number of organisations that run open source software training projects across the continent, including SchoolNet Namibia, The Shuttleworth Foundation and the East African Centre for Open Source Software.