Microsoft CEO Visits Vietnam

By TRAN VAN MINH Associated Press Writer
Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer witnessed the signing of an agreement Monday requiring all of Vietnam's government offices to use licensed computer software in a step to curb rampant piracy.

"The agreement demonstrates very strong commitments of the government of Vietnam," in protecting intellectual property rights, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung told Ballmer before the signing ceremony.

Vietnam's Ministry of Finance was the first government agency to sign the Microsoft Office licensing agreement during a visit by company Chairman Bill Gates last year.

"I see a prosperous future ahead for Vietnam, and the country is doing the right things by looking now at how it can foster a healthy local software ecosystem, which will help open up this market to the rest of the world," Ballmer said in a statement.

The software piracy rate in Vietnam is about 90 percent, one of the highest in the world, according to the U.S.-based Business Software Alliance, a piracy watchdog group. A version of Microsoft Windows can be bought on the street for as little as 50 cents.

The Business Software Alliance hails the licensing agreement saying it demonstrates how the government is serious about protecting intellectual property rights and reducing piracy.

"We anticipate that the Vietnam government licensing agreement of desktops could reduce the overall piracy rate in Vietnam significantly next year," Jeffrey Hardee, the Alliance's Asia Pacific regional director said in a Microsoft Corp. statement.

Ballmer also participated in an online chat hosted by the Web-based newspaper Vietnamnet during his one-day visit to Hanoi, the first stop on a weeklong trip to Malaysia, Singapore and Australia.

"The Vietnamese government has acted not only to ensure that clients in the state sector benefit fully from licensed software programs, but it also serves as a good example for the whole IPR environment in general," Ballmer said during the chat.

Local information technology developers said Ballmer visit will be another boost to the country's IT industry following Gates' visit and Intel Corp.'s kicking off construction a $1 billion semiconductor plant in southern Vietnam last month.

About 15 million of Vietnam's 84 million people have subscribed to the Internet since the service became available 10 years ago.

"The whole world sees Vietnam as a new destination for information technology," said Truong Gia Binh, President and CEO of FPT Corp., Vietnam's leading IT company. "This trend will continue after the visit."