As far as Microsoft is concerned, Cambodia is now officially on the map.
Earlier this year, Microsoft’s Market Development Program established an office in Phnom Penh, and Wednesday, for the first time ever, Cambodia took part in a global launch of new Microsoft computer software—including Windows Server 2008.
The new server software is aimed at “businesses of all sizes” to help them manage their computer networks, according to Microsoft Vietnam’s director of business and marketing organization, Danny Ong Chong Tat.
Of the launch, which was held at Phnom Penh’s InterContinental Hotel on Wednesday afternoon, Danny Ong Chong Tat said it was a testament to Microsoft’s commitment to Cambodia.
“We haven’t had the network before to launch products in Cambodia…. We want to demonstrate to people that we are here for the long term,” he said. “[Cambodia] is a very exciting emerging market.”
With the aid of Windows Server 2008, servers in Cambodia will be able to “run faster and in a more secure way,” said Microsoft MDP Cambodia General Manager Pily Wong.
Danny Ong Chong Tat said the server software is licensed, and therefore priced, to scale. It sells for about $800, with an additional $25 for each user, he said.
While the opening of Microsoft’s Cambodia office was heralded by the government as a win in the fight to establish intellectual property rights in Cambodia, many noted at the time—and the fact still remains—that more than 90 percent of software in Cambodia is pirated.
What Microsoft’s presence in Cambodia seems to indicate more than anything else is an investment climate that is finally inviting businesses with money to spend on advanced computer systems, and that appear to see the benefit of doing so above board.
Rinn Wong, an IT specialist at the NGO Population Services International, said that PSI currently uses Windows Server 2003 software, and he is excited to begin working with Windows Server 2008.
“We want to upgrade to meet our requirements for now,” he said.
The new software has more advanced features and that will allow PSI to “manage users easily,” he said, adding that PSI has about 150 users on its server, and he estimated that it would cost around $50,000 to make the full upgrade.
Not everyone sees Microsoft’s presence in Cambodia as a good thing.
Norbert Klein, an advocate of open source technology, said that Microsoft’s presence makes Cambodia more dependent on proprietary software, or software for which the codes are closed to the public and sold as commodities, unlike open source which is available free of charge.
This is in conflict with the government’s professed commitment to moving away from proprietary software, Klein said.
As such, Microsoft sells an expensive product that makes consumers reliant on the manufacturer and the price of subsequent updates, he said.
Moreover, there is a viable alternative to Microsoft’s server software in the open source software Linux, which is free of charge and for which there are many trained professionals in Cambodia that can offer support, Klein said.
“Linux is legally free of license fees…. There are more and more professionally licensed Linux technicians in Cambodia,” he wrote by e-mail Wednesday.
Microsoft is making every effort to get people hooked on their software so they can sell more products, he added.
“They have been making big campaigns and the money is flowing,” he said, referring to other Asian countries like India and the Philippines.
If everyone in Cambodia had software licensed to Microsoft, Klein said that Cambodia would, in aggregate, be spending around $10 million a year in fees.
Phu Lee Wood, secretary-general of the National Information Communications Technology Development Authority, said by telephone Wednesday evening that the government welcomes both open source and proprietary software.
“The latest technology is available here, regardless of whether it’s open source or proprietary,” he said, adding that government agencies use Microsoft software on their desktop computers, but use open source software for their servers.
Open source programs are valuable in education where students can learn from exploring the software, he said, as well as from a security standpoint because anyone can see how the software is operating.
Microsoft’s presence, on the other hand, sends a signal to the world that Cambodia is operating according to rules and regulations established by the World Trade Organization-which demands members abide by copyright laws-as well as a signal to Cambodians that the latest technology is finally available here.
“We hope [Microsoft] can make a profit and contribute to the local economy as well,” he said.
Danny Ong Chong Tat declined to make a direct comparison between Microsoft and open source programs, but said that Microsoft offers unparalleled security and support measures.
He said he believes there is a place for open source programs, which can be tuned and tweaked along the way, in the community and in businesses which possess a high level of technology expertise.
Microsoft, however, is preferable for businesses that need to “use technology as a strategic asset to deliver services” and don’t have the time or know-how to develop the software themselves.
Microsoft’s interest in Cambodia is about maximizing in revenue, but isn’t confined to profit-making, he said.
Microsoft wants to engage the government as customers, but also in terms of policy. They want to educate the workforce about how to use technology to empower, and they want to entice more business customers, Danny Ong Chong Tat said.
“Are we making money? Yes, we are,” he said. “But we just started.”