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Ballmeromics: the hardware way to end software piracy

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Steve Ballmer this week came up with a novel explanation for high levels of software piracy in emerging economies. Hardware, he says, is too expensive. What these people need, he said, is a "$100 computer."

We at The Register have had occasion previously to observe that Steve is rich and we are not because he can see things that we cannot. And well - there he goes again. There is a possibility that this is another one of those 'Steve didn't really say/mean that' occasions, Steve being something of a master of the misquote, but the context would tend to support the cheaper hardware equals less piracy interpretation. At the Gartner Symposium in Florida CNET reports: "One way to stem piracy is to offer consumers in emerging countries a low-cost PC, Ballmer said. 'There has to be... a $100 computer to dow-market in some of these countries. We have to engineer (PCs) to be lighter and cheaper,' he said."

Take into account the paraphrase and the nip and tuck and it's pretty clear that the quote isn't exactly as it left its mother, but in any event he is talking about piracy as being Microsoft's biggest problem, and he is talking about ultra low cost PCs being the way forward for emerging markets. He's certainly right about how a $100 PC would be a great enabler, but it's entirely unclear how this would stop people who pirate Microsoft software because they can't afford it from just carrying on.

There is however no reason to reduce prices, says Steve, because most of the people can't afford PCs, so obviously don't steal software, whereas the people who can afford PCs are "relatively affluent" and can therefore afford software. And "those affluent people cannot pay, so they don't pay," he adds bafflingly. Assuming he meant to say something opposite, then you could kind of pursue the logic. There's no point in cutting prices because the people who have computers can afford to pay, but just won't. But if the people who don't currently steal software because they can't afford computers suddenly can afford computers because they're $100, then... Well seeing they still can't afford software, won't they start stealing it?

Over in the eWeek, report meanwhile, the war on Linux continues. Ballmer comes up with the usual party line on security. But as The Register has a special coming up on that very subject we'll move quickly on with him to Linux in Europe.

In the CNET report he claims "Paris said Linux was dramatically more expensive than Windows." For eWeek, however it morphs rather nearer the truth with: "There is no ROI case for the city of Paris." But presumably he said both. In any event, the bottom line for Paris (as reported here) is that ripping out all the Windows and replacing with open source will be expensive, but that escape from lock-in to a single supplier is important, so a phased switch is currently the most likely option. Neither of the things Steve said is untrue, as such, but he neglects to mention the key point that the city is trying to escape his clutches, and spins it as an illustration of Windows being cheaper than Linux.

On, though, to Munich, where Ballmer's persuasive talents failed to block the defection last year. Here he says the city is still either diddling or dithering (we'd say 'dithering', unless he sang it in an Irish accent), and anyway people only keep saying Munich because it's the only big one they've got to mention. But actually, Munich paused to consider its likely exposure visa a vis patents, perfectly justifiably, and is now moving ahead again. But we'll try not to mention it for a bit Steve, if that helps any. ®

Related Ballmers:

iPod owners very honest, not thieves at all, says MS
Love DRM or my family starves: why Steve Ballmer doesn't Get It
Ballmer calls for horse-based attack on Star Office

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