Microsoft has had two more successes in its crusade to gain footholds in developing countries by doing deals with government and has signed up Ghana and Angola in Africa, to join Malaysia and Thailand in Asia.
The programme, which has seen lead Microsoft executives travel widely throughout Asia and Africa in recent weeks, talking to governments about special versions of cut-price Windows XP, is widely seen as an attempt by the software giant to pre-empt moves toward open-source and licence-free software, particular Linux, among poorer countries.
Earlier this month, the government of Ghana signed a memorandum of understanding with Microsoft aimed at creating a workforce that is literate in information and communications technology. Last month, Angola signed an agreement with Microsoft on financing Internet access for the government and training.
The agreement between the government of Ghana and Microsoft calls for a number of actions. These include Microsoft working out a National Educational Licensing Agreement with the government of Ghana for all schools using Microsoft desktop and server software.
Microsoft has also agreed to provide free upgrades to Windows XP Professional for all new PCs purchased with Windows Home Edition and (to be negotiated) deeply discounted Office XP Professional under the Schools Agreement package in the Partners in Learning Programme.
Microsoft will in addition, provide Windows 98 or Windows 2000 for re-installation on pre-used donated PCs (up to Pentium II machines) under the Access-Fresh Start for Donated PCs program, at no charge.
The pact also calls for Microsoft IT Academies to be available to all educational institutions in Ghana. To help kickstart this, Microsoft will assist the government of Ghana in establishing Microsoft IT Academies at four institutions, including the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT the first year.
In addition, Microsoft proposes to establish a state of the art .Net Laboratory at Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.
The agreement between Angola and Microsoft on the other hand, will allow the country's state-owned public television to broadcast courses by Microsoft technicians, and also calls for the financing of the installation of technology for government access to the Internet.
However, The Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa, a foundation that advocates the development and use of open source software, has warned that such agreements between Microsoft and African countries will hurt their local software industries.
A spokesman of the Ghanaian government acknowledged that such agreements are not free of risk, but said the benefits are worth taking. "Do we stay put until we fully develop our software base? On the other hand we can learn from that experience," Agyekum said.
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