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Bridging the Divide might be good for the bottom line

Earlier this month, Sun announced that it was getting ready to offer its software to entire governments on very attractive pricing terms. As part of its Bridging the Divide program, governments will be able to buy a license with a price tied to the number of citizens in the country by the end of June. A country that qualifies as "least-developed" under UN rules would pay perhaps 40 cents per citizen to license Sun's Java Enterprise System and Java Desktop System, which it would then use in its own health, education, and other infrastructure programs.

This announcement got the expected small flurry of coverage when it came out, but I haven't seen anyone trying to actually translate this into the size of the check Sun would get. Of course, any numbers I come up with won't necessarily reflect reality, for two reasons. First, when Sun announced the program, they said that the 40 cent per citizen figure was only a preliminary estimate, and that full details would be announced later. Second, using a flat rate doesn't account for any horse-trading between the involved governments and Sun. But when did a commentator let a few facts get in the way of an opinion piece?

The United Nations helpfully presents a page of Least Developed Countries that you can browse. (Actually, it's "Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States, or LDCs, LLDCs, and SIDS - and you thought computer people invented a lot of acronyms!). Tiny Tuvalu (home of the well-known .TV top-level domain), with a population of 10,000, could end up paying a $4000 licensing fee. Seems like a decent deal. On the other hand, there are about 140 million people in Bangladesh. I suspect the government there has better things to do with $56,000,000 than buying Java licenses.

Things get murkier when you move up to the world of developing countries, since Sun's Jonathan Schwartz suggested that they would pay a higher per-citizen price without specifying what that price might be. Let's guess at 80 cents a head, twice the license fee for least developed countries. Coming up with a list of developing countries is a bit tough, but the United Nations Development Programme has a list of all of the developing and least-developed countries together; subtract out the least-developed ones, and there are quite a few countries left. Once again, it's a widely-varied list. For instance, the tiny (but rich) country of Bahrain, with its 570,000 people, would pay a $429,600 license fee using my guesstimated numbers. With its $5.3 billion GDP, that should be an easy bill to pay. For Sun, though, there are two clear plums to be pursued in this set of nations: India (population 937 million) and China (population 1.2 billion). That translates to fees of perhaps $749,600,000 and $960,000,000, assuming that Sun were happy with the nearly decade-old population estimates that I could find for both of those countries. What salesman wouldn't want to join the billion-dollar club?

And what of the developed nations? It's hard to even speculate what might be seen as a fair per-citizen price for the US, Japan, France, or Germany. I think I'll just wait for June to roll around rather than guessing at those numbers.

One interesting side note to all this: according to Wikipedia, the UN allows each country to decide for itself whether it is "developing" or "least developed". I wonder how frequently they're allowed to change their minds - and whether any developing countries will suddenly find it advantageous to be least developed, however briefly, in order to get a healthy discount on Sun software.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy has been developing software for a quarter-century now, and writing about it for nearly as long. He walked away from a .NET development career in 2006 and has been a happy Rails user ever since. Mike blogs at A Fresh Cup.

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