7 minute read

Originally published at OLPCNews.com, check there for the comment thread.

Open Source Software fans were happy when Mandriva met the ClassMate PC last year, and recently they still could cheer when Nigeria decided to buy Intel's Classmate PC loaded with Mandriva Linux. But now, Mandriva Linux's Chief Executive Officer François Bancilhon is telling a Halloween horror story of Microsoft in Nigeria:We recently closed a deal with the Nigerian Government. Maybe you heard about it, Steve [Balmer]. They were looking for an affordable hardware+software solution for their schools. The initial batch was 17,000 machines.

We had a good answer to their need: the Classmate PC from Intel, with a customized Mandriva Linux solution. We presented the solution to the local government, they liked the machine, they liked our system, they liked what we offered them, the fact that it was open, that we could customize it for their country and so on.

Then your people entered the game and the deal got more competitive. I would not say it got dirty, but someone could have said that. They fought and fought the deal, but still the customer was happy to get CMPC and Mandriva. So we closed the deal, we got the order, we qualified the software, we got the machine shipped. In other word, we did our job. I understand the machine[s] are being delivered right now.

And then, today, we hear from the customer a totally different story: “we shall pay for the Mandriva Software as agreed, but we shall replace it by Windows afterward.�There's a lot of speculation about exactly what went on between deciding on ClassMate/Mandriva laptops and deciding to put Windows on after they get them, but it mostly revolves around various versions of bribery. Let's keep at least some of the conspiracy theories over at slashdot and focus instead on the impact that this has on the OLPC Project.

Obviously, Microsoft has woken up and is playing catch up to the low-cost computing market, and is willing to cut some very attractive loss-leader style deals to not lose its grip on the desktop in developing markets. They're definitely in it for the long term, and if it means giving away their OS and Office suite for a few years in return for protecting their monopoly position through extending their lock-in effect, then it just makes plain business sense -- marginal cost of a copy of XP? Zero. Licensing the next copies of Microsoft software, indefinitely, for all of these new users? Priceless, even with piracy.

But wait, it gets worse. We already knew that Microsoft is working on getting XP on the XO, and that there are some good reasons not to do that; but more Halloween horror news via Reuters and Yahoo from Microsoft reveals:"We're spending a nontrivial amount of money on [XP on the XO]," Microsoft Corporate Vice President Will Poole said in an interview on Thursday.

"We remain hopeful with our progress to date, we still have significant work ahead to finalize our analysis and testing processes," he said. "At the end of the day, there's no guarantees."ZDNet expands this with information from Negroponte:"It would be hard for OLPC to say it was 'open' and then be closed to Microsoft. Open means open," Negroponte said.

"Microsoft has always been working on Windows for the XO. We put the SD (secure digital) slot into our laptop over one year ago, for them," Negroponte said [no so, according to Jim Gettys, OLPC Software Engineer], explaining that the SD slot allows the XO's memory to be expanded, making it easier for users to run Windows.

Windows on XO "has not only been happening with our consent, but (also our) collaboration. Some of the first engineering models from any given build go to them," Negroponte said.
What if both were XP clones?!I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about these turns of events. I don't want to say that there's a One Laptop Per Child and Microsoft conspiracy going on, as I suspect that the coders over at OLPC HQ would be in all-out revolt in that case.

Yet the last thing I want to see is Microsoft extend its domain through the XO after all the excellent work that's gone in to the Sugar UI and eToys. However, courting Microsoft is playing with fire. Sure, open does indeed mean open, but unless the Windows running on the XO is released with full source, then something has gone awry.

Windows is not Constructivist, some would say its not even good code, and it would destroy the whole educational underpinnings of the laptop and the OLPC program. And if nothing else, what happens to the View Source key in XP?

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