Subject: Re: Supreme Court declines Eldred.
From: robin <>
Date: Fri, 17 Jan 2003 10:25:33 -0500

> The second is the preference of "down-trodden peoples" for Microsoft.
> I was fortunate to attend a talk by Larry Lessig in Tokyo a few weeks
> ago.  For the first time I ran into tech-y people from "emerging
> markets" (or with a deep interest in them) who were interested not so
> much in open source per se, but in intellectual property issues.  One
> man from Pakistan challenged Larry, "Why do you advocate open source
> for our countries?  Why shouldn't we get the most advanced technology,
> too?"  He got scattered but determined applause, mostly from people
> who I would guess from complexion (and the distribution of people I've
> met here) to be south Asian, Middle Eastern, or African.

I had similar discussions at the first-ever open source conference held 
in Jordan, a country whose king is trying hard to make it "the" software 
provider to the Arabic world. Jordan has no oil, remember. Its major 
resources are sand and people, which are the basics of a "silicon and 
software" economy if they are processed correctly.

Jordan is your typical third-world software trap. Most of the 
proprietary software there is illegally copied, and the BSA is getting 
progressively more irritating, so local use of FOSS is attractive. But 
at the same time there's a huge desire to earn money from writing (and 
exporting) software, and they are not sure how to do that without 
proprietary licensing.

(So you know, my trip was sponsored indirectly by USAID. Our 
government's right hand may ask ambassadors to lobby against FOSS in 
Peru, but its left hand spends money to spread the Open Source Gospel in 
Jordan. Go figure.)

I did not run into the "Microsoft/proprietary is inherently better" 
argument in Jordan, except from the two Microsoft marketing people who 
were allowed to present in the interest of giving the other side a fair 
shake (after MS bitched to USAID, it seems).

The Jordanian attitude toward FOSS seems similar to what we see in the 
U.S.: Strong "geek" support, growing awareness on the part of 
management, strong fighting against it by Microsoft-tied resellers and 
proprietary software development firms, although the heads of two major 
local proprietary software development companies admitted privately to 
me that they are starting to use more FOSS tools, especially for Web 
services, and only came out for Microsoft because they had a lot of 
pressure on them to do so.

In a small country like Jordan, personal "pull" is a big deal, too. Two 
other Americans and I met privately with the Minister of Education, Dr. 
Khaled Toukan, the day after the conference. Dr. Toukan got his PhD in 
physics from M.I.T. in the mid-80s. To him it's simple: MIT is where GNU 
started, while Microsoft was founded by Harvard people. He is totally 
receptive to Linux/FOSS throughout the education infrastructure, and is 
as tired of paying MS license fees ("Many millions we cannot afford") as 
the Portland, OR school district. And while Dr. Toukan may have gotten 
his job through family connections, he is no dummy nor is he a computer 
illiterate. When we left his office, he was eager to get through his 
next meeting ("Boring budget stuff") and load up the Knoppix CD given to 
him by Peter Gallagher, president of Dev-IS, a profitable open 
source-based software business in Virginia (who really ought to be on 
this list).

The new head of Jordan's government IT infrastructure is young, geeky, 
and a Linux user at home. Several of the people now getting promoted 
into positions of influence at the Ministry of Plans (essentially the 
king's personal think tank) run personal and "side business" sites on 

I'm in email contact with some of the people I met in Jordan, including 
some "ordinary" folks I met hanging around at the schwarma shops and 
kebab stands when the conference wasn't in session. These are not stupid 
people, and the NPR radio thing a couple of days ago about how Jordan is 
a backwards country when it comes to IT because the reporter couldn't 
find firewire cables at a local computer store was silly; he went to the 
wrong store, is all. I rolled around Amman with a couple of guys from and stopped at more than a few back-alley computer outlets 
that were as well-stocked as their conterparts in the U.S.

There is hope in the third world, possibly lots more of it than shows in 
the formal conference environment. This morning a reader emailed me an 
article from the Universtiy of the Phillipines' student paper (as a jpg; 
it's not online) about how several departments have now converted to 
Linux and more plan to make the switch in the near future.

Life is good!

- Robin