Saturday, October 01, 2005

Revelations

Rational Technology for Oct. 2, 2005

Perceptibly the most affected group with the crackdown on pirated software are the Internet cafes that litter the landscape of the Philippines. According to a local game publisher, there were an estimated 8,000 establishments of various sizes operating in the country. While there have been no high-profile arrests, quite a few have pre-emptively shut their doors in order to avoid any tussles.

So are the Business Software Alliance (BSA) and NBI really serious about this endeavor? No one really knows, and that's what many find worrisome. Some will choose to blithely ignore the problem, thinking that as with many law enforcement drives it will be all light and sound with no substance. Many have taken steps to legalize their software, but ironically, because of the sudden spike in demand, licensed copies of Windows and Office are scarce.

Some have banded together to form a lobby group before Congress and the Commission on Information and Communications Technology (CICT). Last September 28, a group of cafe owners approached a congressman to for a moratorium on the ongoing government crackdown. Their aim is to find "win-win" solutions with Microsoft. But exactly what these solutions are is still not very clear. At best it will buy the cafe owners time. Now that it's quite clear that Microsoft has this industry by the balls, it's not likely that they're going to give any significant concessions.

All the same, it's quite a revelation to see just how extensive piracy really is in the Internet cafe business. Now it can be seen that one of the reasons their rates are so low is because they have not been paying the proper dues. It really was only a matter of time before the hammer fell.

And now that the hammer is about to fall, I find that I am callously unmoved as to their plight. Haven't they had a long honeymoon where they haven't had to spend on any licensed software at all? Besides, it's not as if alternative options like Linux and open source have not been available for quite some time.

True, the shift to Linux can be difficult, but it is not impossible. However, the real reason Internet cafes feel tied town to the Windows platform is because of critical applications that do not run well or at all on Linux. Like what?

Oh, massively multiplayer games like Ragnarok, MU Online, and Gunbound. Staple software like office productivity tools, Internet browsers, and graphics utilities run fine on Linux. However, it's now very clear that productivity is not the main objective of Internet cafes because it's not what brings in the money. What does this mean? That perhaps Internet cafes, as they are now, are really just a big waste of time.

So really, I think this crackdown is a good thing. For too long, Internet cafe owners have been arrogantly complacent with the status quo. They have contributed little to our overall competitiveness in IT, and clearly, they are the wrong barometer of IT literacy. This shakedown will force them to find new solutions -- hopefully legal-- and flex a little ingenuity in the process.