We Get More
Imran H. Khan
a world without computers, without the use of any form
of computer aided utility, devoid of all modern amenities
that need the computer. A world without computer in
this millennium is like the 60's without the Beatles.
Simply unthinkable. Computer technology has hit the
world by storm, changing lifestyles and revolutionising
the concept problem-solving. In this globalised Internet
oriented world where do we stand?
the IT revolution has been quite slow to progress in
Bangladesh, there are visible signs that computers are
changing the way people live. Nasser Akhtar, 27, who
drives a yellow cab for his living has recently installed
a CD ROM drive in his car. Instead of putting in a CD
player, which would probably cost him Tk.9000, he has
connected this cheap computer accessory and it totally
serves his purpose. "The CD track sometimes skid
but I have put in some cloth and gauze around the player
to minimise it from shaking. It's not only cheap but
I also have a year's warranty on the CD ROM driver,"
he says with a grin.
technology has become a familiar convenience for urbanites
especially. Afsana Afroze, Chairman of Businesslink
Computers Ltd, has been in the computer industry since
1996 and recalls the time when the computer industry
was still a toddler. "The best thing about those
times was the fact that most of the people had very
little knowledge about computers. Some people even thought
that a computer consisted of a monitor and a keyboard,
to write into that monitor. They had no idea as to what
a CPU (Central Processing Unit) was. They had no knowledge
about the hardware components and software in the computers,"
she says. "We could sell them the top of the line
and that would be enough to satisfy them, even though
they sometimes had no idea what they were buying. This
was just about five to seven years back. Customers were
limited and choosy; most people did not want to invest
in something that was still considered a luxury.
the scenario is quite different with plenty of customers
and there is no fooling them. They always do their homework
before coming to purchase a Personal Computer (PC) and
have ample idea about all the software available and
the hardware necessary to support them. The common customers
give the entire configuration of the
computer of their desire starting from the processor,
motherboard and ram (Random Access Memory), to the graphics
card, hard disk and multimedia. Some of them even specify
what sort of operating systems they want and all the
relevant software and windows applications. "There
is no longer the desire to buy something that is the
latest in line and expensive. They simply buy something
they know that will serve their purpose," says
Afroze. Before, consumers would buy a complete PC package
for about Tk.50,000 but now, they easily make do with
something that's half the price. Even though this can
sometimes be a little bit on the downside for computer
vendors, they are still happy to see the interest that
has sparked among most people regarding their PC.
curious aspect of being in touch with the current technology
is how the customers use computer hardware for other
purposes. Since 'necessity is the mother of invention',
the necessity of owning a television can be seen when
some people buy monitors, a TV card and speakers and
voila, your own television set. When the person later
has some money to buy a CPU (Central Processing Unit),
he may do so and then have the full capability of owning
a computer but meanwhile, he can enjoy the comfort of
the television. In Dhaka stadium, computer items are
in high demand, especially from people Old Dhaka. "There
are people who come to us and buy CPUs and CDROM drives.
They then put it together along with a set of speakers
and they have a nice CD system. It's convenient and
much, much cheaper," she says.
Even though the software
aspect is still at an infant state in Bangladesh, people
are becoming familiar to it. Because the software development
market is best described as fruitless here, the availability
of good programmers is rare.
need for a strong field in software is the foundation
stone for developing our Information Technology sector.
Here, the people are more interested in hardware. The
software side is too technical and hence, futile. Nonetheless,
networking is catching up and has become quite popular
in corporate levels.
Curently our government
is buying a wide range of software from India. There
are many people in Bangladesh who are more than able
to make small and medium software packages to suit the
needs of different organisations. Especially at the
government level, there are numerous types of software
that is being used daily. Most of them are developed
and bought from our neighbouring countries. "Why
can we not let our own people develop software that
will suit our needs?" demands Afroze. "There
may be a lot of glitches and bugs in the software but
those can easily be solved with the help of specialists
brought from abroad. They can then educate us about
the problems that we had with the programme and hence,
through a trial and error method, we can overcome our
dependence on our neighbours for good programmers."
As there is so little
help or encouragement from the government in the computer
sector, many firms and individuals out of sheer frustration
are creating some extremely useful software on their
own. These programmes are not only of high quality,
but the revenue that they are receiving is being pooled
back into the Bangladeshi economy. We are not losing
any of our investments. Even though the computer industry
is less plagued by politics the high level of corruption
in Bangladesh makes sure that any software company will
probably have to think twice before setting up a business
of the major problems that the computer traders are
facing is the government's taxation system. "If
we paid tax only on imports then it would not only benefit
us but the clientele," says a computer retailer
in BCS Computer City. The government is in the midst
of implementing a Value Added Tax (VAT) system which
unnecessarily burdens the final customers. There is
currently an Import Development Surcharge Tax (previously
termed as Advance Income Tax) of 3 % on all imports
of computer items and the VAT is currently set at 1.5
%. Because of this system, one has to pay tax to the
government every time a computer is being sold from
one person to another. If an importer who had imported
a batch of printers from Malaysia sells it to a wholesale
buyer, he will charge a 1.5 % VAT on that to the wholesaler.
This tax is going to the government. When the wholesaler
sells that batch to smaller retailers, he too will charge
a 1.5 % VAT on that to the retailers. This tax is for
something whose tax has already been paid to the government
and all the while, the price of the final product is
continuing to rise. When the retailer sells it to the
final consumer, he too will charge a 1.5 % VAT for selling
that product and the whole burden of this tax will fall
on the shoulders of the final client. Instead of paying
Tk.1000, he ends up paying something like Tk.1100, depending
on how many times that item has changed hands. This
issue is still on the table of the National Board of
Revenue (NBR). There is a rumour that when this tax
hits the Computer City, each individual shop will have
to separately pay VAT. "Imagine the implication
here. One shop may be the showroom with its head office
somewhere else. When we order things back and forth,
there is transaction and the adjustments go in the form
of memos. When this tax hits us, we will have to pay
tax for even moving our own goods from one shop to the
next. That is the face value of VAT," he concludes.
of the taxation system of Bangladesh, many retailing
outlets have to slightly 'modify' some digits while
filing for their tax return. If they don't do this then
they will not be able to function, as corruption runs
deep within the bloodstream of this nation. Another
retailer from Elephant Road, who wishes to remain anonymous,
says, "If I am so used to doing small sins, why
should I be scared to go a little further and do bigger
sins? It's simply a matter of time and opportunity."
He was commenting on how things have become from bad
to worse on the corruption issue in the government tax
Zafar Iqbal, Professor
of Shahjalal University of Technology, Sylhet, eminent
novelist and one of the leading heads in the field of
IT, describes the underdevelopment of the software field
because of a Catch 22 situation. "Our problem is
not because we don't have good programmers. Skilled
programmers simply make up about 10% of the software
industry where as the remaining 90% is made up with
people like managers, architects, etc. Without the presence
of all these people, there will be no industry,"
says Iqbal. There is a constant pool of fresh graduates
who are more than able to handle the programming side
of the industry, says Iqbal, but first of all, they
will need the industry. 9/11 was also a major drawback
in the field of IT. The impact has been largely felt
in the field of IT all over the world, including Bangladesh.
One possible solution suggested by Iqbal in order to
create an industry in software is to create an internal
market for software. If all the government sectors and
other organisations started to use computers, there
would be a huge demand in workforce for this huge project.
"The main way in which the people of this country,
namely programmers and engineers, will be able to prosper
is through much needed experience," says Iqbal.
With experience, there will be more scope for us in
the international market. "We will need everyone
to come forward if we want to develop the software field.
We will especially need the assistance of non-residential
Bangladeshis to provide the knowledge and share their
experiences with those people who are still inexperienced
in this field."
have all the necessary ingredients to develop out software
field but what we lack in is experience," he continues.
Our infrastructure is another main problem. Unless we
develop our network and our broadband width, we will
not be able to provide the necessary support that many
multinational companies here want. The networks here
are really slow and those that are fast are extremely
expensive. "We will simply have to develop our
Broadband width if we want to move to the next step."
Through many problems
and controversy, the much-anticipated Submarine Cable
has made its way to Bangladesh from India. We should
be able to use it sometime in the year 2005. It will
come from Chittagong but the problem will occur when
we try to spread the cable to other parts of Bangladesh.
Even though Dhaka and Chittagong will be able to get
the full benefits of this cable, the service may not
be so readily available to other districts of Bangladesh.
"In such a situation, a digital divide may occur,"
Piracy, a major concern
all over the world, is still not a serious issue in
Bangladesh. Here, we simply copy whatever CDs are popular
without any concern. Office XP 2003 alone costs about
USD400 in the States but here, we can easily get it
for about Tk.120. By 2008, Intel and other companies
are making their systems such that pirated software
will not be supported on their hardware, but those are
still in the distant future. "I personally prefer
the software that are Linux based. They are free and
better to use for a country such as Bangladesh, "
continues Zafar, "and the StarOffice Suite, which
is compatible on the Linux operating system, is quite
similar to the Microsoft Office" which we are so
familiar with. It doesn't take a whole lot of training
to move from one system to another but the motivation
has to be present. Though Microsoft knows of our widespread
usage of its popular Window package, it is currently
not doing anything about it but if they file a lawsuit
against the government of Bangladesh, then it can cost
us billions, warns Iqbal. "Microsoft cannot target
those individuals and organisations at the private level
but they can sue at the government level for the usage
of their product. There is still time for the government
to move on to the Linux system."
a recent business report, the CEO of Nokia, Jorma Jaakko
Ollila claimed that "you could do all that you
do with your PC with a cell phone". If such is
the boom in technology in the mobile industry, imagine
what computers will sum up to. In CeBit, the world's
biggest technology fair, computers are being featured
as a home entertainment system. Computers have evolved
so fast that even the modern games are not being able
to keep up with the rapid advancements in hardware.
But in Bangladesh, advancements are not as rapid. The
latest network system in Bangladesh is the radio broadband
but this networking involves investing a large sum of
money, which many business corporations cannot avail.
There are many people who are going to foreign countries
for treatment. With the development of out broadband
infrastructure, there may be a scope for them to get
treatment from out local doctors, with the assistance
of doctors and physicians from Bangkok and Singapore
through web conferencing. It's all possible but the
basic infrastructure has to be present.
Bangladesh has come
a long way from apathy towards computers to a conscious
appreciation of their remarkable contribution to make
life easier. But there is still a long way to go. We
should all be optimistic and "hope that the jump
to the next level is a smooth one," concludes Zafar
Ferdous Alam, a student of IBA who recently bought a
Dell Laptop says, "It's much better to purchase
items from online. People here still think that laptops
is still a luxury. In America everyone can get hold
of a laptop because of simple loans from banks and Dell
corporations. It's almost as cheap as paying nine dollars
per month (interest free) and getting a laptop on you
laptop." The best thing about Dell is that the
whole thing is online and hence, there are no retailers
to bring up the price. As long as you have someone to
bring the item over to you, it's always a good buy.
"Another laptop the Viao (from Sony) is the best
and the sleekest around but it has failed to capture
the market as they are not just specialised in the field
of PC. But they have the edge because they have the
technology to produce something that is really thin,
light and that looks ultra nice." The Viao is about
3 pounds and about an inch thin. "You can't beat
that, but that's where it ends." For all this beauty
you have to pay a minimum of USD2000 where as for the
same configuration you get a Dell laptop for about USD1300,
which is a bit thicker and bulkier.
is a P4 mobile, 3.06 GHz and it just cost me $1190.
Mobile means it consumes less power and it's a little
faster than a regular P4 laptop. It also comes with
a Geforce FX card, which gives you the option to play
the latest games, say Prince of Persia 4 on a laptop
which cannot even properly be played on a desktop PC
with the latest graphics configuration here. This laptop
is not just cheap but it gives me everything I want
and more,” says a contented Tanzeen.
Dell world is totally online and hence, their inventories
cost is nil as they pay their suppliers after you pay
them. It's somewhat of a totally digital firm; one simply
can't go wrong. The same principle is being applied
by DELL on PDAs (Personal Digital Assistant), Projectors
and MP3 players and hence, they have become a big threat.
A PDA costs USD180, an mp3 player is USD200 (15 gigabyte)
and a projector is about USD1800. Projectors are probably
the next step in the gaming industry.