NEWS - Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Piracy Fear

NEW DELHI: Piracy, piracy, piracy. That seemed to be the top concern of the flamboyant Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, visiting India after a gap of nine years. So deep was Ballmer’s concern over software piracy that he ruled out the release of Microsoft’s gaming hardware device XBox anytime soon in India, for the fear of its games — software on which the company actually makes money— being duplicated, making the company lose millions. ‘‘We don’t have XBox in India because piracy is too high,’’ said Ballmer in an interview with The Times of India. ‘‘It is not just us, the competition (Sony) doesn’t serve the market either.’’ Ballmer said even the growth of Microsoft’s business here, which is still small (about Rs 700-800 crore) compared to its global revenues, would depend in part on how effectively piracy is dealt with. He said Microsoft’s business could grow about 2.5-3 times over the next 3 years. ‘‘Our business can grow here. But number one wild card factor is software piracy here is very, very high. Not as high as China but very high,’’ said Ballmer. He agreed however that piracy was not just an affordability issue also an accessibility one — how readily consumers can get the products they want. In fact, he indicated that the company could take some steps in the coming months that would help Microsoft reach its products legally to consumers more easily. Ballmer said Microsoft was working on ways to take IT and PCs beyond the middle class India. ‘‘Market is beginning to emerge and grow, at least among middle class people and business. There is no major pick up (however) in the lower middle class here. We want to make sure that we are doing everything that we can serve the market here,’’ he said. Ballmer said Microsoft was looking at the innovations for ‘‘digital inclusion’’ that would allow ‘‘computers and technology to be more affordable and inclusive, once you get past the middle class and get down to the millions and millions and millions.’’ Ballmer said Microsoft’s growth would eventually depend on ‘‘how well we do with our hardware partners in coming up with devices that really make sense economically to the masses of Indian people.’’ Ballmer said much of the $400 million India investment, announced by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates during his visit here in 2002, had been spent and the company was finalising plans for the next round of investments. He said the planning would take a few months. On Linux, Ballmer said its threat in India is no greater than anywhere else in other countries. And, on overall IT market he maintained that it is out of the depths of the depression that came right after the Internet bubble. There is a sane investment going on in IT again. However, he added that outsourcing was a new form of price pressure in the IT industry, much like in the software and hardware industries. The service industry has its price pressures, led by Indian systems integrators. On Longhorn, to be launched in 2006, he said, it’s ‘‘the greatest’’ operating system release of windows since 1995. It will have new, simpler user interface to help manage Web pages, e-mail and documents. Will turn on the system immediately.


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