I believe in challenging the myths and prejudices that surround science and technology. And one of the biggest prejudices within society right now is the one directed against Microsoft.
As many of you will know, Microsoft is viewed with suspicion at best and hostility at worst. This is despite the fact that Microsoft has revolutionised the computer world by bringing desktop software into millions of offices and homes across the globe. At the same time Microsoft has productised and standardised software development, making its adoption much easier and cheaper for everyone.
But rather than Microsoft’s contribution to society being seen as a positive thing, it is treated with calls to legislate against its supposed stranglehold and monopoly over the IT industry.
From more alarmist sections Microsoft faces accusations of ‘Digital Imperialism’. Richard Stallman of Digital Commons, for example, likens Microsoft to a drug pusher, giving out free software to less-developed countries in order to get them hooked to Microsoft for life.
What Stallman and his like ignore though, is that there is nothing forcing governments, businesses or consumers to choose Microsoft products. People have a choice and they are choosing Microsoft. As an official of the Indian government put it, ‘India is a poor country. We cannot afford to develop operating systems and platforms on our own. We need Microsoft’. (1)
Neither does Microsoft have a stranglehold over technology – it is simply the dominant player in the market. In the past, capitalism was seen as a competitive, dog eat dog world. The ‘survival of the fittest’ was its mantra. Now it seems if your competitors are doing better than you, you can just go running to the courts and claim how unfair it all is!
Even the fact that Bill Gates is donating billion of dollars of his own money to finding cures for diseases such as TB, malaria and AIDS is accepted begrudgingly. An article in the Guardian following his recent tour of Africa, portrayed him as barely human, his voice conjuring up as much warmth and emotion as a computer chip. His description of the human body as a complex computer with viruses to be eliminated is treated as slightly clinical and cold-hearted. (2)
In reality Gates is entirely humanist in his outlook. Gates believes in the power of science and technology to solve the problems we face. He believes that science and innovation can make the impossible possible. This belief in the human potential stands in stark contrast to many commentators today who would like to limit our impact on the world.
So let’s not demonise Microsoft just because is it popular or successful. It is precisely because Microsoft has been so successful that it has been able to help change our world for the better.
This year, the International Data Corporation (IDC) conducted a study of the economic impact of IT in 82 countries and regions. They found that technology is a key element in economic, social, and technological progress, and it is critical for the sustainability of economies all over the world. Technology adoption brings many benefits, and in addition, the technology industry is a significant source of economic growth and direct job creation. Microsoft was seen as a key contributor to this growth. (3)
We should be arguing for more economic successes like Microsoft not less. With this economic success comes prosperity. And with this prosperity comes social, scientific and technological progress that brings benefits to us all.