Bending towards software

The computer hardware industry is now turning to the software segment to boost the sale of its products. The increased focus is the Indian language software market. The Manufacturer’s Association of Information Technology (MAIT) has decided to turn its attention towards developing the language software sector so that the demand for hardware products to run these programs increase significantly.

Currently, computer hardware industry is almost entirely focussed on tapping the demand from the English-speaking sections of the national population. This is because, English is the dominant language in which the basic operating systems, middleware and the applications that run on computers are mostly available. By and large, the English-centric IT industry concentrates on reaching out to this segment. Nearly 90 percent of the national population is thus left out of the marketing efforts of the computer industry.

MAIT hopes that emphasis on software applications being made available in Indian languages will provide the key to tap the remaining 90 percent of the population. There are several uncoordinated efforts nationwide to develop software applications which can be accessed by non-English speaking people. Many State governments, particularly, Tamil Nadu, have taken significant steps to facilitate the development of computer software in Indian languages. 

The key stumbling block is the non-availability of standard codes which will facilitate interoperability of the programs written in several languages. To overcome this, MAIT plans to make relevant changes in the Indian Standard Code for Information Interchange (ISCII), which is similar to the ASCII code followed by the US and the global IT industry. MAIT also aims to strengthen Unicode and develop standard fonts and keyboards to facilitate smooth operation in non-English languages.
The Consortium on Innovation and Language Technology(COILtech) has been set up by MAIT last year to coordinate these activities. The Ministry of Communication, and Information Technology too is closely involved in the program. The ministry is taking up the issue of changes in the global standard for languages, Unicode, to accommodate Indian languages.

Whatever MAIT is doing now is long overdue. MAIT should not have waited for the industry downtown to turn its attention to the high potential of the language computing segment. The comparatively high price of computers, unlike the color television sets and other such must-have consumer goods, has been a dampener in the growth path of PC sales. Equally responsible for such a scenario is the non availability of suitable application software in Indian languages. 

In fact, if MAIT’s new initiative succeeds, it will lead to a paradigm shift in the way computers are sold. Demand for high quality, highly useful software can lead to increased sales of computers. The technological advancements and highly competitive nature of the industry has led to the near commoditization of computers. There is very little difference between various brands or technologies in the PC world. So new drivers to push up demand growth and differentiate between plain computing boxes have to be found. Relevant software could indeed be one of the drivers of growth.

The day may not be too far when personal computers are sold as consumer goods like cellular phones. Now there are reports that many cellular telephone service operators may give the cellular handset free if someone opts to stay with their service for a fixed period. A PC too could soon be bundled free with must-have software applications. So far, by and large, consumers have bought a PC first and then started looking for applications to run on them. The reverse could become true soon.

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