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Editor's Note: Helping Save the World

Nov 04, 2005, 23:30 (10 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

Linux is saving the world.

Yes, you read that right. I wrote "is saving." Not "will save" or "has a chance to save."


Is. Saving.

How is this so? Forget, for a moment, that Linux is fast, efficient, safe, and on and on. Forget that Linux is free and capable of providing long-term inexpensive computing solutions to users ranging from a migrant worker to a Fortune 500 CEO. These are all true, but right now this is not germane to the point I am making this week.

Linux, it seems, may be in some small way responsible for the improvement of health and well-being of millions of poverty-stricken and ill people around the planet.

That's because on Halloween we saw the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation make a significant grant to fighting malaria in Africa. That would be the same Africa that is currently exploring options in several nations to dump Microsoft products for free software, including Linux.

Coincidence? Maybe. Given the timing of the three grants totaling US$258 million, I have to wonder.

Let's be clear: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been contributing to world health crises for many, many years. In many different nations. Run a Google search and you will see them making donations way before 2001 in nations that had or have nothing to do with Linux. I will go on record as saying that I think the charitable work they do is exemplary.

But that does not preclude using the timing of their gifts to help sweeten the incentive to stick with Microsoft. This was first noticed by me and a few other news reporters in the Fall of 2002, when the Foundation donated US$100 million to combat AIDS in India. At that time, the Indian government as well as several of its states, were strongly contemplating a shift to free software. Bill Gates himself visited India on a goodwill/business tour at roughly the same time. Small wonder: at over 1 billion people, India represents a very very strong market by anyone's standards.

And, curiously, Linux has yet to make big inroads in the Indian government.

Now, this week, we have the African donation to combat malaria. But I cannot ignore the fact that Nigeria, Namibia, and South Africa are all pushing for Linux desktop adoption, particularly in schools. Tanzania and Mozambique are coming along as well. We already saw Microsoft make significant and direct IT contributions to schools in Africa. Is the malaria grant another way of saving grace? Am I the only one to notice this?

The Foundation is going to donate money anyway. That's what it does best. Why not donate in such a way, though, to help the Foundation's chief moneymaker a bit?

If I am right, and if Linux adoption is slowed because of these actions, then at least we will have the knowledge that at least Linux's almost-presence may have helped saved some lives.