A few days ago I was at the local computer store to buy some hardware, when I noticed that all the software shops were absent any software. It turned out that Microsoft and their local lackeys are back on the warpath chasing after software piracy. *Again*. This has happened so many times in the past that it’s laughable. Still, maybe because of these constant raids, software piracy has slowed down to some extent. We no longer have the latest and greatest software’s available here soon as they get released for manufacturing abroad. Often times, one has to wait for months before software is finally available over here. Still, with the advent of Windows XP and Office XP, people are basically satisfied with what they have, and there are no longer hordes of people looking for the latest software releases. Games of course are available here well before their release dates abroad.
For those who shudder in horror at all the rampant piracy around here, please take note that it is *impossible* to actually buy a legal copy of any software around here. I have tried over the years, but I have never been able to track down anyplace which sells legal copies of Windows and Office. When it comes to digging out computer stuff in Karachi, I consider myself quite resourceful, so if I (and a large number of other people and hardware retailers) can’t find a legal copy even after a good ten years of effort, I have to conclude that Microsoft doesn’t care about this market and so can’t be bothered to actually sell any copies.
The most likely explanation is that whoever it is whom Microsoft has authorized to look after the Pakistan market is happy making money by raiding small offices and slapping hefty fines on them. I have gotten a number of threatening faxes from this (Dubai based) organization over the years, and while most have gone into the dustbin straightaway, I did contact them a number of times about acquiring/purchasing Windows. Each time they said they’re in the business of stopping software piracy, not selling software. And no, they did not send along any contact numbers/places where I could purchase the software from.
There are a few legal copies of Windows floating around in the market which have come in with laptops and branded computers, but it’s illegal to buy them according to the Microsoft license. Somewhere in the “End-User License Agreement”:http://www.microsoft.com/technet/prodtechnol/winxppro/proddocs/lic_what_eula_say.asp legalese it says “you may not sell or rent”:http://www.microsoft.com/technet/prodtechnol/winxppro/proddocs/lic_sell_give_away.asp your copy of Windows. While a Californian court ruled you can sell purchased software no matter what the License says, I doubt that applies outside California. Most geek lawyers in America/Europe think that most EULA’s cannot hold up in court, but this theory hasn’t been tested yet. It makes sense though, as current EULA’s basically make you sign away your first child and just about everything else too.
So when it’s impossible to buy a legal copy, what is a computer user in this country to do? Regardless of the extreme price differential, there are people in this country who want to own a licensed legal copy of the software they use. This is mostly due to a common misconception that the original version will somehow run better than the pirated version. In the case of small business, they don’t want to go through the hassle of fighting with the local Microsoft dogs about ‘pirated’ software, so they want to acquire legal versions.
The problems of windows licenses are quite interesting. Many people in this country have second-hand machines which have been disposed of in the west. Most of these machines come with Windows already installed, along with a sticker of the original product key. They sometimes even have the cubicle number and the company they were in. So when the machine running a pirated version of a operating system already has a license, the piracy issue is no longer so clear cut. We have tons of licenses sitting there in the form of old computers rotting away in containers and dumps. Most of them should still be valid, as the operating system along with the computer was thrown away. Shoot, some of these computers haven’t even been formatted, and all sorts of interesting information can be pulled out from them. Legally, it’s an interesting issue. Maybe an enterprising shopkeeper can buy a thousand of these pc’s, and claim to have acquired valid licenses for Windows 98 (which most of these old pcs have). We recycle a whole lot of junk from the West, why not software also? Microsoft can claim that these licenses have ‘expired’, and cannot be transferred, again this would have to go though the courts. By the time a decision is reached in the Pakistani courts, this entire decision will be moot as by then (after a decade or so) we will all be running Linux.
Sadly, no “computer shop”:http://ko.offroadpakistan.com/pakistan/2004_01/computer_shops_in_karachi.html in Pakistan seems to comprehend that there is such a thing as free software which they can sell with impunity. On the other hand, I doubt that the Microsoft and the BSA representatives understand either. They are completely capable of hauling up someone on charges of selling ‘pirated’ versions of RedHat Linux and OpenOffice! Currently up-to-date Linux distros are harder to find than just about anything else in the world. And no, its almost impossible to download ISO’s over a modem connection which keeps disconnecting coupled with electricity which fluctuates and dies every so often. Broadband is slowly creeping into the country, so it would be nice if one of the broadband companies could mirror one of the linux ftp servers which contain the popular distros.
Microsoft Windows and Office together are available for “40 dollars in Thailand”:http://www.idg.com.sg/idgwww.nsf/0/57F719F988F6415548256D8D003789A6?OpenDocument. However, the Pakistan government shows no sign or realization that they can bargain with Microsoft. So sooner or later, things are going to come to a head. Nobody here is going to buy software for a hundred dollars a pop here.
As Pakistan cracks down on software piracy, free software is going to become more and more important. Excepting the larger corporations and multinationals, every single computer in Pakistan runs pirated software. It will be interesting to see whether people will end up buying software, or switching to free alternatives. Even if the government starts jailing people, my guess is that about 2-4 percent of home users will pay western prices for software. There are “ongoing efforts”:http://newsforge.com/newsforge/03/10/05/162252.shtml?tid=11 to convert to Linux by the government. While techies/geeks are switching, the normal user is going to avoid it like the plague. See “LinuxPakistan.net”:http://www.linuxpakistan.net/ for more about Linux usage in Pakistan.
From Microsoft: “What should I do if I suspect I have unknowingly purchased illegal Microsoft software products?”:http://www.microsoft.com/technet/prodtechnol/winxppro/proddocs/lic_what_to_do.asp
bq. The first thing to do is to return the product to your place of purchase and ask for a legitimate replacement product or verification that the product you purchased is legal. If the vendor refuses to help you, ask for your money back, and find a legitimate dealer who will sell you legally licensed Microsoft products.
All very nice, but around here there are no legitimate dealers! _And no, dealers hidden away in a dark alleyway somewhere don’t count_
bq. If the vendor refuses to give you a refund, report their actions to your local Consumer Affairs office. You should also call your local Microsoft subsidiary or a regional Business Software Alliance (BSA) ant piracy hotline to report your concerns.
Well, the vendor will happily give you the 30 rupee refund for the cd. There is no local Consumers Affair office to call here. The local Microsoft office is more akin to Al Capone’s gang than a legitimate business office. People are well advised to steer clear from them. I mean, why would one report a theft to a crook? So pretty much everything is ruled out. I did once email the Microsoft sales office in Seattle about buying a legal copy of Windows, but haven’t received a response yet. It’s only been five years. I expect it’ll take at least a couple more before they around to really cracking the third world market.
*Update:* It seems Microsoft is trying to get a firm grip on the third world market. They’re working on cut down versions of Windows and Office which they’ll sell at supposedly _reasonable_ prices.
*Update:* Vendor support will be a big selling point, for most users need serious help with their PC’s. Every single local vendor I’ve seen or heard of in Karachi goes about support the absolute wrong way (as written above). People would pay hefty sums for proper support from trained personnel. That would most likely require a local call center for basic support, and for a additional premium there could be on-site support. Bill Gates “told”:http://www.paktribune.com/news/index.php?id=52774 Musharraf that Microsoft is considering investment in Pakistan. I doubt they’re going to be opening up a high tech R&D center here, so the only other option is a low tech support center, along with some giveaways to educational institutes. So far the only industry MS is supporting here is the police whom they pay for all those incessant raids.
Another interesting aspect could be that Microsft could arrange with some local ISP to have windowsupdates servers running locally which provide fast updates for registered users. There are lots off financially cheap incentives which MS can use to easily grow the local market. What is really annoying is the BSA’s non stop crying about piracy when they’re not providing any feasible alternatives.
*Update:* Increasingly, many shops in Karachi are selling original software. What most people are unaware of, is that while the software is the real deal, with the original box complete with manuals and a working serial, it is still illegal. One of the computer retailers I know, who is now selling a lot of ‘orignal’ software buys them from Dubai and Singapore in bulk, and resells them here. As explained above, this is highly illegal.
*2011 Update:* OEM versions of Windows are finally available in Pakistan, but once again they are being sold illegally by a few local software vendors, generally smuggled in from Dubai. As per Microsoft, OEM licences are to be sold only with new pc’s by a system builder, in the region for which they were provided for. Far as I know, hardly any software used in Pakistan is still not available to buy anywhere. This is true for just about all western content.