timone NetMarketing
disponibile anche in italiano

Marketing in the internet – as seen from Italy

No. 59 – September 3, 2001

Other articles on similar subjects
are published in English
in the monthly Offline column


loghino.gif (1071 byte) 1. Editorial:
Software freedom: a worldwide movement?

There seems to be a new worldwide movement. Not very visible (or not yet) but beginning to gain momentum. Governments and public institutions in several countries appear to a bit more aware of the need for open software – and actually doing something about it. Not enough... but it’s a beginning. They are many years too late, and so far they aren’t showing enough determination. There are weak signs, so far, of coordination or cooperation across borders. But governments and public administrations in several countries appear to be somewhat less blind than they were about the need for software freedom. Before I get into the specifics, please let me make four introductory comments.

  • Though this is surprisingly ignored, or understated, by media and information systems worldwide, it’s pretty obvious that when one company has 80 percent of the market that’s a monopoly. And when the behavior of the monopolist is as arrogant and questionable as it is, it’s practically unavoidable to discuss the specific faults of one company. However this is not simply a matter of being pro or against Microsoft. It’s a much wider issue. Principles and concepts need to be set (and practiced) that define general criteria – regardless of which individual supplier is chosen for a variety of services. The development of information technology was largely based on academic science and open systems. Even more so in the case of the internet. There is nothing wrong with private or “commercial” developments per se. But too many key controls are in the hands of private interests that are deliberately trying to use their leverage to reduce all forms of freedom. Economic, social, cultural – including the basic notions of free speech and privacy.

  • This isn’t just a matter of “Windows vs. Linux”. As we stand now, Linux (as well as other Unix-based opensource systems) is the best available alternative. But the solution is not “dictating” the use of any specific solution. It must be total openness. Setting general principles of freedom, transparency and compatibility.

  • This isn’t just a matter of information technology or networking. The domination of operating systems is being deliberately used to “integrate” software applications, including mail tools and web browsers. That leads to a variety of tools being shamelessly used to control networks, influence the behavior of people and companies, invade the territories of information and culture, reduce freedom and violate privacy. All f this is particularly dangerous when source code is hidden and the content and workings of programs can’t be verified. It’s abundantly clear that the monopolist is doing many of these things and is trying to do much worse. But if other companies were in such a position they would probably do the same. Or, in any case, they could – and that is totally unacceptable.

  • As the perception of the problem spreads around the world, it’s sometimes tainted of “anti-Americanism” (one of the unfortunate consequences of such attitudes is that they could reduce even further the already too weak and slow anti-monopoly actions in the United States). That’s not the point. An exaggerated domination of one country in technology and in the internet (as well as , more broadly, in the economy and the information system) isn’t good for anyone. But the solution is not isolationism or protectionism. Quite to the contrary, what we need is more freedom. Including more open, aggressive and effective competition by Europe and the rest of the world.

That said... let’s get to the point. Several years too late, the world seems to be waking up to the problem. Reports at the end of August 2001 indicate that there are several initiatives in different countries moving in the same direction. In Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and other Latin American countries there is a movement called, in Spanish, software libre (that sounds a bit like a well-known drink). This is not just a matter of stated intentions. There is also practical action. For instance Brazil is developing the useof opensource solutions in its health system and Mexico in schools.

There are developments in some European counties and the European Union is beginning to plan some specific action (still weak and vague – but at least, and at last, acknowledging the problem). China is somewhat inscrutable, and (as far as I know) there are no “official” statements – but there have been reports of plans to develop a national opensource operating system. Legislation is developing slowly in parliament in Paris, but there are initiatives in several public service departments and the French government is setting up an agency to “encourage public administration to use free software and open standards”. In Germany the government is continuing to finance the development of Unix-based open systems.

There are several “spontaneous” initiatives around the world, that don’t just identify the problem but come up with practical solutions. What has been missing so far is coordination and mutual help – a well as a shared strategy. And there has been a lack of serious concern, commitment and action by public services and governments, on a national scale and worldwide.

There are also initiatives by private companies – such as IBM announcing an investment of 200 million dollars for the development of opensource resources in Asia. Other companies are making statements in favor of opensource, as a tool for more open markets and competition (but not doing much about it).

In my country? We are lagging far behind. There are several isolated spots in public administration in Italy using opensource systems. A decision by the Florence municipality in favor of free software (July 26, 2001)was mentioned in international reports, but unfortunately it’s only local. There is no organized action on a national scale. The problem was stated very clearly by a number of NGOs, especially by ALCEI (Electronic Frontiers Italy) whose document on this subject (January 29, 1999) was acknowledged several times by public functions and formally included in the papers of the national convention (June 1999) organized by the official government on the use of information technologies in public administration – but ignored in practice.

Of course this is not only a problem of the public sector. But that’s a good starting point. Private companies must be allowed to do as they wish, even when (as in this case) they are damaging themselves and the economy as a whole. But public administration should not be allowed to force citizens to use expensive private software – nor to expose public records (including personal information on all citizens) to the invasive control of private monopoly that does not allow any control of what it’s doing. Hopefully the example set by public services could be followed by private enterprises. That would not only save billions of dollars (or euros) but also prevent unacceptable invasions of personal privacy and cultural independence.

Is there, at last, the beginning of a worldwide movement to look into this problem and try to solve it? So far, it’s too little – and too late. But there is a serious need to do something about it.

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loghino.gif (1071 byte) 2. The mysteries of India

It’s been two years since I last published an analysis on “large low-density countries on the internet”. I might update it when new worldwide data become available – if there will be relevant changes.

In the meantime, let’s take another look at the two largest countries in the world. China and India.

At the end of 1998 there were 13,000 internet hosts in mainland China. At the end of 2000 there were 90,000 (and probably, by now, over 100,000.)   Considerable growth – but very small numbers. Density is less than 0.1 hosts per thousand inhabitants. On the other hand, there is remarkably high density in Taiwan, Hong Kong, etcetera. Chinese communities worldwide have a total of 1.6 million hosts – probably, by now, over two million.

See the data about “ten large communities” in issue 56.   (A more detailed analysis is online, with text in Italian and Spanish – but charts and graphs are clear in any language.)

Of course in China there are limitations due to the vast territory and limited economic resources of a large part of the population. But the strongest limiting factor is political repression.

The case of India is very different. Three years ago the Indian government issued some well conceived directives to encourage expanded use of the internet. But nothing happened. Those “good intentions” got lost in the intricacies of bureaucracy, politics and the economy. India had 13,000 internet hosts at the end of 1998. Now 36,000 (or maybe, according to other sources, 43,000.)   Things aren’t any better in the rest of the Indian “subcontinent”. Pakistan had 3,000 hosts in 1998, 6,000 in 2000. Surveys can’t find more than 3 in Bangladesh.

Is this unavoidable, because India is a “poor” country? Not really. There are as many affluent people in India as there are in France or in the United Kingdom. India’s economy is as large as Germany’s. More people in India speak English than in the British islands. Many Indians have good education and high technical competence. Under present circumstances it’s not possible for India to have the same density as Europe – but there is no reason why it can’t have the same number of internet hosts at the Netherlands (a country with 1.5 percent of India’s population.)   That’s two and a half million.

In the latest wordldwide survey the Netherlands had 1.6 million internet hosts. But according to more recent European statistics now they have more than 2.5 million.

With all the big talk and debate about “globality”, the fact remains that a very large part of humanity has no access. That’s a very serious problem. Intelligent use of opensource solutions – and, in any case, more compatible, less expensive, more efficient and more consistent over time – could be one of the key tools to improve the situation.


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loghino.gif (1071 byte) 3. The internet in Italy

For those international readers that are interested in the situation in Italy, updated information is available in two reports on this site. One is about the use of information and communication tools in Italian families. It’s summarized in English – see Cultural divide (not “digital”). The other is specifically about use of the internet (differences by age, sex, place of residence, income, education level etc. are continuing to decrease.)   It’s available only in Italian (but, also in this case, graphs and figures are clear in any language.)

Use of the internet continues to expand in Italy, but growth seems to be a bit slower in year 2001. Business use, that was dominant in past years, now is static. Home use is growing. There are no signs of “saturation”. For instance 70 percent of the people with a home computer have internet access, but only 64 percent use it and only 28 percent do so regularly. There is perplexity about the real value of what can be found on the net. In the business environment there is some discouragement, due to the continuing press reports on the deflation of the stock market “bubble” and to the dismal results of some poorly conceived online activities. The potential, of course, is large and growing. But many companies need to re-define their strategies.



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