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Watch China's progress: Bill Gates

NEW DELHI NOV. 10. The chairman of the global giant Microsoft, Bill Gates, has urged India to watch the progress of China in the software field, while constantly improving the education of its people to stay in the lead.

Replying to questions submitted by The Hindu on the eve of his third trip to India, Mr. Gates said: "India is the leader by far but it should track the progress China is making."

Highlighting the importance of a proper regulatory regime and education, he said governments should create laws and policies to encourage research and development (R and D), support the development of businesses and protect intellectual property rights.

The software billionaire will focus on his support to programmes to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS during this visit. At the same time, he will be meeting a large number of technocrats and Government leaders, giving rise to expectations that Microsoft's activities in India are set to expand. Significantly, this time he is spending as much as four days, compared to barely a day-and-a-half during his last visit.

The downturn in the software sector has apparently prompted this focus on India which he describes as the leader in the software arena. The visit is also expected to be more business-like and intensive than the last one when he was merely passing through on his way to the Sydney Olympics.

Responding to a specific question on the prospect of China posing a threat to India in the software sector, he said the global technology market will continue to grow as businesses depend more and more on information technology and people increasingly use computers to help manage their daily lives. "China and India will compete for the high-paying jobs this creates," he said.

The key question, he felt, was how countries such as India and China can best compete in such a fast-changing market place. Several factors, including the need to create supportive laws and policies relating to R and D and supporting business development, stood out. Secondly, he felt educators need to take a long-term view and ensure that students are exposed to math and science early. "You need entrepreneurs who are willing to think big and take calculated risks and government policies that support them."

On the future of the software sector, he said customers would see a lot more choice. "For instance, you'll be able to purchase the same old shrink-wrapped box and also buy a subscription for updates," he said. In addition, the customer would be able to sign up for an annual fee, download the product, and then get regular upgrades as they become available. The customer will also have the choice of allowing those updates to download automatically while at the same time ensuring that privacy and security are totally protected, he pointed out. "To do all this, however, you'll really need a high-speed connection which is why we believe broad band is so important," he said, highlighting a crucial problem area in this country.

As for Microsoft's prospects given its recent strong results, he said the company's ability to succeed in future depended on several critical factors and its ability to execute them. "We certainly don't take our success for granted," he said. Microsoft needs to build even closer and stronger relationships with its customers and industry, especially as it focuses increasingly on enterprise computing and Web services, he maintained.

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