An Inside Look at how Microsoft got XP on the XO


As part of a small personal project, I've been reading through the court exhibits presented in Comes V Microsoft. One of those exhibits is a chain of internal Microsoft emails discussing how to get Windows XP on the OLPC. In these mails, there is a "recap" (and some later email discussion) of a meeting between Orlando Ayala, Craig Fiebig, and Tom Phillips from Microsoft with Rodrigo Arboleda of OLPCA and Marcelo Calure of Brightstar.

olpc windows xo
A "realistic" XO laptop OS?

I am Jason Melton and I'd like to point out several things we learn in the recap:

  1. Microsoft was already working directly with Hector Ruiz, the Executive Chairman of AMD to get XP on OLPC, and specifically planned on enlisting AMD to "shift Nick into a more realistic state on the Open Source philosophy."

  2. The entire purpose of the meeting is to help get XP on the OLPC. It is not a negotiation and there is no one representing the OLPC Project's interests - in fact, Marcelo Calure is extremely candid with the Microsoft representatives, revealing financial information about the OLPC project, board member's leanings, status of project engineering, personal insights on Nick's psychology, and much more valuable information. It's important to note that at the time of this meeting, Microsoft was not in any way a partner to OLPC - internally Microsoft figures it has about a 20%-25% chance of being accepted, and as is shown in the accompanying email discussion, already has a plan to compete directly with the OLPC if the proposal is rejected.

  3. Marcelo and Rodrigo further give specifics on how Microsoft should present its proposal, make sure Microsoft gets it to all the board members - presumably because they now know the board members that are likely to support it - and also further agree to review it. So, not only is this not a one-off meeting, but part of a continuing effort to assist Microsoft. (We also see in the email discussion that Microsoft has another meeting with AMD coming up.)

  4. We also see what I personally consider one of the saddest things about the meeting: Marcelo and Rodrigo agreeing that Nick needs acknowledgement from Bill Gates - the impact of this would be "very significant". To address this, Microsoft plans to draft up an email for Gates to send - my man can't even get a real email. The cold identification and exploitation of a human weakness seems especially brutal to me.

  5. There also a little suggestion of the old quid pro quo, where a contribution of $10MM-$30MM to the MIT Media Lab might not cause offense.

olpc windows xo
Microsoft's ultimate XO goal

After the re-cap there is some email discussion which is also illuminating. We see that Microsoft already has a back-up plan to compete with the OLPC:

"Remember that a key part of our strategy is to create a situation where even if Nick rejects us for philosophical reasons there is a long as visible history of our attempts to work with them and then we have to ask to get a license for the "open source hardware" and we will make our own offering on the commercial side."

The duplicity of Microsoft trying to create a "long and visible" record that directly contrasts the actual dealings may or may not come as a surprise to the gentle reader.

The quid pro quo is handled a bit more subtly inside Microsoft - naturally, as they're quite practiced - and we learn that Microsoft Research already intends to reduce MIT Media Lab funding, but has not done so specifically because they don't want to "disrupt the negotiations".

Finally, in case you think I've failed to mention it: there is never any talk of "the best technology" or "educating or empowering children" or "customers/governments want Windows" or any such merit-based discussion. Outside of a brief mention of Academic Software offerings - literally the very last thing in the recap and suggested by the OLPC faction - the entire discussion revolves around what benefits Microsoft, what might hurt Google, and exploiting inside information they have on the OLPC project and OLPC people.

"Of the Microsoft arrangement, Mr. Negroponte said: 'We've stayed very pure."
New York Times, May 16. 2008

Ah, it's nice to think so, isn't it, Nick?

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And now you know why I always act as a total asshole toward people promoting Windows on XO, no matter how much their tone is "reasonable" or "conciliatory" -- then they have nothing to exploit.

say it ain't so, Joe!

It is sad to say, but I expected this.

I have followed the OOXML standardization saga from the start, and some of the drawn out court cases against MS.

Microsoft have never, ever competed "fairly", nor have they ever had the well-being of their customers (or humanity) in mind.

They have always done whatever they thought they could get away with, illegal or not. And they have been convicted, time and again, for breaking the law on three continents.

I have seen how they brutally destroyed the careers of those who stood in their way (eg, Peter Quinn in Massachusetts).

This IS Standard Operating Procedure for Microsoft.


Why they do it?

Since a very long time, MS have nothing to offer that could not be bought better and cheaper elsewhere. The XO is evidence what new and exciting things can be made if you simply ignore Microsoft. It is only corruption and dirty tricks that keep Microsoft's empire alive.


"Since a very long time, MS have nothing to offer that could not be bought better and cheaper elsewhere."

Very true. And they can't even deliver this minimum level at a fair price or without restrictive licensing terms. Desktop Linux does as well as Windows for most people, and has for the past several years. If only more were willing to take the plunge...

"It is only corruption and dirty tricks that keep Microsoft's empire alive."

I would argue that advertising plays a major role as well. MS has made "Windows" synonymous with "Computer" in most people's minds. Since Windows works "OK", they have no motivation to look for anything better, and MS is free to push their proprietary formats, vendor lock-in and overpriced add-ons.

OSS is a much better deal, but does require that the average desktop user step outside their comfort zone.

Another nice example about how MS competes with Linux on price:

"EDGI is a customer-focused program that is for circumstances (like the one you reference) where an education and/or government customer is going to puchase naked PC’s or PC’s w/Linux. IF we do everything possible and it still comes down to price differential between the Windows PC’s and Linux PC’s, then we can invest some/all of the royalty revenue from the deal back to the customer in the form of training, services, or even rebates. For more detail see that attached and let me know if you want to chat
before your call. Note: This is not a partner program and is MS-internal only "

Be sure to look at the "Linux Account Wins/Threats/Losses" table at the end.


And you might want to compare the OLPC's fate with this:

"This sounded familiar because Microsoft has a track record of tossing people out of their jobs if they don’t serve Microsoft’s agenda and diplomats are not particularly impressed by this behaviour. “Chief Ministers IT advisor and Arun M (Special Officer, ICFOSS & FSF India Secretary) is removed,” tells Anivar."


I was reading a article on yahoo from a writer from Wall Street,about the 12 best stocks to buy, He explains below about Microsofts stock.


Microsoft, $20 1-06-2008

Customers come back year after year to purchase software upgrades of Windows, Office and Microsoft's other programs.

Microsoft also has $20 billion in cash and no debt. Thanks to a roughly 33% drop in its stock since May, it's trading at less than 10 times expected earnings for its fiscal year ending in June.

(End Quote)

The Motley Fools has stated they have lost faith in Microsoft Stock and I have been watching their stock daily to see what is happening.

And from what I can see, the investors out there are losing their faith in Microsoft also.

Redhat is only a $5.00 difference from Microsoft.
If this Windows7 isn't a big blowout, Microsoft is headed for the dump.

I could not resist to offer a brief analysis. This is exactly the problem with OLPC - the behaviour is expected from microsoft, but weak politics in what was supposed to be a social endeavor.

In as much as every *person* involved had the best intentions, the system itself setup to execute the solution was crippled from the start, weak community with poor feedback loops, defenseless to the huge interests at stake, inhabilitated by lack of a clear vision, and tied by conflicting interests.

Then again, how did the board members for this social endeavor get to be AMD / DELL execs? And why is there no info about the OLPC board of directors in the OLPC wiki?

Business people either think they can outsmart Microsoft, their lawyers can outsmart Microsoft, or they have no clue as to what Microsoft really is/has been/does.

Negroponte probably still has no clue as to why Microsoft is never going to be a friend to the OLPC and the goals they have attempted and I doubt the new people there understand the problem either. There are a few others inside of OLPC who were and are clueless of their business practices and history. If only someone there would give each and every one a copy of "The Innovator's Dilemma" they might get a small clue.

Unfortunately, this naivety is how Microsoft often wins. In business, you need to thoroughly know your friends and your enemies. If you don't, you'll never know which they are.

I am shocked, shocked to see that people and corporations look out for their own interests. Color me cynical but I don't see anything surprising, illegal, or ill intentioned in these revelations. Having Windows on the XO even if only as a check mark does help OLPC. Having Microsoft as an ally does help OLPC. No one in politics or business offers support to a cause without gettig some sort of benefit back.

I participated in the first round of G1G1. My kids like the OLPC but they often wish they could play their favorite Windows educational games on it. Neither they nor I really care what negotiations lead to that ability as long as nothing illegal is involved.

So you teach your kids that illegal is bad but immoral is OK.
God help us if your kids are our future moral leaders. Maybe your kids could get jobs at ...

Putting the rather large assumption that having Microsoft as an "ally" is actually beneficial:

Did you read through all the information that Marcelo provided?

I find the release of sensitive information to the "other side" of the bargaining table - before the bargaining began - to be pretty surprising.

I know I would be fired immediately if I revealed information like that outside of my company. It may not be *illegal* -- I'm not a lawyer -- but it's dern sure questionable.

[[Below applies to the "generic you" and not the poster "Contrarian" specifically.]]
And seriously, be honest -- in all likelihood you wouldn't care even if something unquestionably illegal WAS shown in the emails. After all, Microsoft has already been convicted and/or settled numerous court cases related to antitrust and anticompetitive behavior in multiple courts, national and international.

If all that doesn't bother you, then you're likely to not be bothered. And that's fine. But don't pretend like you have some strong moral compass that Microsoft is in line with, just admit you don't apply morality to the industry and be done with it.

Sorry, I don't believe in "strong moral compasses" or absolute good and evil. That's for fairy tales. Likewise with the Microsoft antitrust history. As an influential participant in the echosystem, Microsoft has had considerable effect for both good and bad. Some Microsoft allies have derived benefit and others haven't. Some Microsoft antagonists have derived benefit (if only for fund raising purposes) and others haven't. I would say the same about the FSF by the way.

I am not surprised by the amount of inside information revealed to Microsoft in the described meeting. I would also be surprised if Microsoft didn't already have much of this information from other sources. One of the advantages and disadvantages of Open Development is that plans all too often are out there for all to see.

I do care about illegal behavior in part because, in my experience, when lawyers get involved, development slows to a crawl. Legal action is almost always bad PR and harms a platform. For the most part all the litigation surrounding Microsoft has not offended my sense of morality as much as some of the actions undertaken by my government (e.g. Iraq). It tends to be mostly about contract law with various parties doing their best to advance their interests.

Politics is the art of the possible. Private companies such as Microsoft and Google can be helpful in advancing the common good but that is not why they are in business. Recognizing that fact can go a long ways towards building alliances to accomplish goals.

"Sorry, I don't believe in "strong moral compasses" or absolute good and evil. That's for fairy tales. Likewise with the Microsoft antitrust history."

On a scale from the FSF to the Cali cartel, where would you place MS?

What the evidence from the different court cases have shown is that MS will break the law whenever they think they can get away with it.

Courts have stores of evidence that MS bribes journalists (or have the journal bought), pay or punish OEMs to block competitors from the markets, destroy evidence, use libel and defamation to get critics fired, and in general, will never ever tell the truth.

All to kill or prevent competition.

The above documents show that MS conspired with individual board members and employees of the OLPC to damage the interests and aims of the OLPC. If this is not outright illegal, it shows (again) that they are completely untrustworthy as a partner.

These documents also show that MS is NOT interested in the education of children in the developing world. On the contrary, they would happily sacrifice that education to prevent a competitor a market opportunity they themselves don't want to service.

The evidence available shows that this is indeed Standard Operating Procedure at MS.

We ourselves suffer a lot too because of all the lost opportunities, computer mallware, and spam. All of which are amplified by MS' singular focus on marketing and market dominance at the exclusion of security.


Please donate your old boxes to a church-group or some needy student in these hard times! To comply with the law, and with Microsoft's leasing policy, you can now replace Microsoft OS with the free (download from the net) Ubuntu OS, which can be set to erase the hard drive of all traces of the “illegal to give away ” Microsoft system and your private information, before donation! Now, explain to your lucky recipient that all the manuals they will ever need are available for free on the internet! Just ask for them in Google! OpenOffice, which is installed already is plenty adequate for homework assignments and with a little exploring, everything else can work well too! Happy computing!

the way I read this, at least Rodrigo Arboleda and possibly Marcelo Calure should be taken into custody for voluntary corporate espionage. They clearly were going agains the OLPC's interests and gave an outside party (Microsoft) sensitive information. I would say prosecute them for the selfish criminals they are. In fact, I hope their remaining lives will be an utter misery.

I thought it just involved Microsoft bitching all over the place that there's a computer designed WITHOUT Windows in mind, same as how XP got on the Eee machines.