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Fri, Nov 15, 2002 - Page 12 News List

Bill Gates has rock-star status in India

FAME The richest man in the world is a big hit in a nation where software and software services exports totaled US$7.56 billion in the year to March 31, 2002

BLOOMBERG , BANGALORE, INDIA

Microsoft chief Bill Gates, right, and Andhra Pradesh state Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu take part in a round-table meeting in Hyderabad, yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

Bill Gates met 100 chief executives and 2,500 software developers in the southern Indian city of Bangalore, where the Microsoft chairman was treated like a rock star.

"Bill Gates Live!" said the invitation to a speech Wednesday by the world's richest man at the campus of Infosys Technologies Ltd, India's second-biggest software exporter.

"Seeing him was like a dream come true, he's like an icon to us," said Rakesh Kumar, an Infosys code-writer.

Bangalore is home to thousands of programmers working for companies, including Wipro Ltd, India's biggest software maker by market value, who advise customers worldwide on computer systems -- a key constituency for the world's largest software maker. Gates visited Hyderabad yesterday on the last leg of a four-day tour.

"India has an important role to play" in software development, Gates told more than 1,000 developers at Wipro, a few hours after his address at Infosys, amid applause.

"I have often said India is a software superpower."

India's software and software services exports totaled US$7.56 billion in the year to March 31, 2002, according to the National Association of Software and Service Companies. They are projected to rise this year to US$9.83 billion, Nasscom said.

Microsoft is investing US$400 million in India in the next three years, besides providing US$20 million for an education project and US$100 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to fight AIDS.

"As we drive toward developing new platforms you have the opportunity to become experts in it and we need feedback from you in matters of security [and] understanding the concerns of customers," Gates told Wipro staff.

Gates visit to India comes as Microsoft seeks to retain its grip on the market for computer operating systems, dominated by its Windows range of software products.

"The fact that Mr. Gates is here, besides his philanthropic mission, shows Linux is a force to reckon with," said Javed Tapia, director at the Indian unit of Red Hat Inc, a company offering services based on the Linux operating system.

"There's concern over cost of ownership, and people have a choice now."

Linux has been gaining ground in China, where the government has adopted it as the operating system of choice. Linux is "open-source" software, making it freely available to developers who wish to build programs using it, unlike Windows.

"I have worked on Linux for more than two years, and I find it much superior to what others offer," said Mamata Rao, a software programmer at Cisco Systems Inc's local unit.

"It doesn't crash and it's faster."

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