Fouad Bajwa writes of an unusual deal between the Pakistani government and Microsoft, on the s-asia-it mailing list:

To all members of the IT Industry & Technical Community,

Everyone is well aware that global financial recession has hit even the Tech Giants where companies like Microsoft and Intel have being saying goodbye to thousands of their employees. The situation doesn’t seem to be getting better but interestingly our Pakistani National ICT R&D Fund is thinking about helping Microsoft in Pakistan and we from the industry feel that it is sad that instead of supporting local Hi-Tech Start-ups and struggling IT Entrepreneurs [they are]  funding the usual “Non-Useful” activities like conferences [and] so-called accelerator programs for Pakistan…

To be fair, they have funded a number of open source projects, and funding for conferences and other networking activities is always in short supply for those without a significant marketing budget.

I have come to know through my friends in the IT Industry that the National ICT R&D Fund has signed an MoU with Microsoft to fund the Microsoft Developers Conference and something called an “Innovators Accelerator Program”. The funds haven’t been disbursed yet but it definitely annoys me and many of my friends in the IT industry that our government should fund Microsoft initiatives which is already a global giant. I have heard that around 5 million rupees [about USD 60,000] or thereabouts for the innovation accelerator program which will involve Microsoft training, entrepreneurship training and connecting with Microsoft partners and similar amounts related.

I also find it strange that Pakistan would choose it invest money in Microsoft at this time, despite their obvious experience and competence with open source. Others come to the Fund’s defence, saying:

ICT R&D Fund is one of the few institutions in the country that are doing an excellent job… [it] is the role of a funding agency to encourage collaborations for promoting research cultures and provide help in bringing the best minds closer.

But nobody has denied that the Fund has signed an MoU with Microsoft, or argued for its benefit to Pakistan. Fouad also writes:

When will our national institutions support its people, the vulnerable, not the already empowered? Why doesn’t it support the local entrepreneurs, the ones that don’t have large companies or university backings? Why does it have liabilities to include universities whereas it knows what the state of R&D in universities has been except for a few handful? Why doesn’t it include this money for Social Enterprise and created a NATIONAL INCUBATION AND ACCELERATION CENTRE where people like me or you or anyone can walk in and build their ideas and companies?

Ashiq Anjum replies that “No funding agency can build incubators for industry, probably this is outside of their scope.” But the Fund’s stated goal is “To transform Pakistan’s economy into a knowledge based economy by promoting efficient, sustainable and effective ICT initiatives through synergic development of industrial and academic resources.”

It sounds entirely reasonable on this basis for them to assist university graduates in gaining skills that are useful in the knowledge industry, and in setting up their own companies in the knowledge industry. Indeed, another stated goal is to “make Pakistan an attractive destination for service oriented and research and development related outsourced jobs.”

We can establish centres like http://www.socialinnovation.ca/
and help local entrepreneurs in business development and social innovation with the same amount of money[.] That helps and benefits our people and companies directly as well as innovate for local and international markets.

I agree that all countries should support local development, training and entrepreneurship as much as possible.

zdnet.com reports that ‘In an effort to improve Web users’ compatibility experience, Microsoft added a new, user-selectable Compatibility List to the Release Candidate test version of IE 8 that the company released in January… Microsoft describes the list — Version 1.0 of which includes 2,400 sites that don’t render properly in IE 8 (in other words, an “incompatibility list”) – as a tool designed to “make sure IE8 customers have a great experience with highly trafficked sites that have not yet fully accomodated IE8’s better implementation of web standards.”‘

(read more from the horse’s business end at http://blogs.msdn.com/ie/archive/2009/02/16/just-the-facts-recap-of-compatibility-view.aspx)

I think this is interesting. On the one hand Microsoft has finally (finally!) decided to bite the bullet and fix some of the bugs in IE that cause web developers so much pain. In my experience, supporting IE’s buggy CSS takes about as much effort as developing the CSS for Firefox in the first place.

Microsoft has always used the excuse before that users would view sites that rendered badly in a new standards-compliant IE and blame IE for the problems. This is an understandable, if self-serving excuse. Perhaps with IE’s market share below 70%, they feel that they can no longer get away with it on the basis of user base alone.

On the other hand, the list has some very interesting entries, apart from nearly every chinese website in existence:

  • amazon.com
  • blogger.com
  • ebay.com
  • facebook.com
  • google.com
  • live.com
  • microsoft.com
  • msn.com
  • myspace.com
  • wikipedia.org
  • yahoo.com
  • youtube.com

I can’t think of a high-profile site that’s not on the list. I think Microsoft has asked a million monkeys to beta-test IE8 and they’re hitting the error report button randomly.

Otherwise, I can only assume that IE8 doesn’t support any websites at all. Perhaps this is the EU-competition-commission version of IE8 that they were testing?

(thanks to PC The Great at lugm.org for the heads-up)

Open source in Government

February 17, 2009

The Register has an interesting article about various open source vendors’ latest attempt to legislate their way into the healthcare system, and why it’s doomed to fail.

I found it well-written and convincing right up to the last
paragraph but one:

If open source is going to make any real headway in the government, there needs to be an incentive to choose it, not a rule. Time and again, this is where the open source community falls short: Quality code isn’t enough of an incentive. You can put the best engineering in the world
into your product, but if you don’t know how to market, your project will rot in the source repository.

Uhh, non sequitur? Needs to be an incentive to choose it => needs better marketing? Where’s the incentive in marketing? Surely the incentive should be that it’s a better product or that it saves money or time, not that it has flashing lights all over it?