C'est geek c'est chic

A Microsoft developer forum kicked off a new Gulf States initiative to encourage more local software development, but is this just Microsoft’s reaction to the rise of open source in the Middle East asks Eliot Beer?

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By  Eliot Beer Published  June 1, 2006

|~|vimal200.jpg|~|Sethi: These are guys who aren’t necessarily going to be very enthusiastic about wearing a suit and a tie to an event|~|In the upmarket surroundings of the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai, shoppers may well have been surprised to see a number of people proclaiming geek-hood on their black and white t-shirts - geekdom being something many might not normally consider an attribute to be celebrated.

But this was the Microsoft Developers' Forum, held at the cinema complex at the mall in late April and early May. It was the first developer event of its kind from the software giant in the Gulf - and geeks were in.

Vimal Sethi, Microsoft developer and partner evangelist for the Gulf region, is very enthusiastic about the dress code for the event: “These are guys who aren't necessarily going to be very enthusiastic about wearing a suit and a tie; having this event here in a cinema, and with everyone in jeans and t-shirts, it makes it a more relaxed atmosphere.”

The aim of the event was to provide local developers working with Microsoft software development tools the opportunity to put their questions to experts from London and the US. It also gave them a first-hand look at some of the latest platforms and tools from Microsoft.

Sethi, proudly displaying his 'Geek' shirt, says this is part of a wider drive by the company to increase levels of support on the ground for developers in the region. He was brought in from London in January 2006 for this specific task.

But Andrea Di Maio, research vice president for government at Gartner, thinks that Microsoft’s motives for increasing its local support for developers in the region may have less to do with generosity to its developer community, and more to do with feeling threatened. He suggests the formation of local developer communities by the firm has followed the rise of open-source ecosystems which have the potential to usurp the Redmond giant.

“Microsoft is using this same approach in other parts of the world where it sees the potential for being replaced by an open-source ecosystem, so that indicates that it has identified this region as a potential area for disruption,” says Di Maio. “If they were comfortable they would just stay with the sales force, so they understand they actually have to go one extra step. And this means that somebody could come up at some point in time and develop a Dubai open-source community, or even at a regional level.”

Sethi gives this opinion a qualified rejection, and is clearly happy to take on the open source argument: “I would definitely say that we take competition very seriously; personally I think competition is very healthy. To be honest, I haven't seen too many significant projects which we have lost to open source. Not to go into details about open source versus our platform, but you've got to look at the bigger picture; there's this myth that it's free - nothing's free. Once you do the TCO and ROI calculations, it doesn't work out to open source's advantage, and we're quite confident about that.”||**||

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