Halloween Horror Story: Nigeria Buys Windows XP Classmates

   
   
   
   
   

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:

linux 2007
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.

olpc classmate linux
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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31 Comments

Aaron (also OLPC Austria) alerted me to this story this morning and with just the information he had given me I concluded that there's really not much to be done about shady stuff like that. Unless you want to start playing dirty yourself that is.

Seriously, something like this was certain to happen and I wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft is currently attempting to pull off a similar stunt in Peru and Uruguay. Of course with the X0 Microsoft seems to be having a harder time getting Windows to run on it, but it's definitely not something that can't be done and therefore rather a question of "when" not "if".

In my opinion all that OLPC and the overall open-source community (whether it's Asus & Xandros or OLPC & Red Hat) can do is to simply work hard at providing a better platform than Microsoft.

One interesting way they could do it is add a requirement to use only open source software on the device as part of the licensing agreement. It's by no means a reliable way to keep MS off the XO, but if OLPC is really "open means open" then they should stick to their guns and force GPLv.2 continued openness on the device. If MS wants to benefit from the openness of the XO, then they should not lock it down with closed source software. If they want to release an open source version of Windows, that'd be just fine.

Yeah, yeah, I'll stop dreaming if you stop laughing.

Funny you say that Jon, as OLPC requires participating countries to adhere to its "5 Core Principals" one of which is Free & Open Source that doesn't really exclude proprietary software: http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Core_principles#free_and_open_source

A world of great software and content is necessary to make this project succeed, both open and proprietary. Children need to be able to choose from all of it. In our context of learning where knowledge must be appropriated in order to be used, it is most appropriate for knowledge to be free.

Further, every child has something to contribute; we need a free and open framework that supports and encourages the very basic human need to express.

Give me a free and open environment and I will learn and teach with joy.

Sometimes I just don't understand my fellow geeks...
As I see it, the whole goal of those projects is to provide children with laptops which -incedentally- will help/ enable them to learn and become competative on the market.
Maybe it is because I work myself for an huge American -and yes, I do work in sales- company but I think that knowing an OS which most of the world uses as a benefit compared to a sexy and streamlined Linux OS. As to bribery, quite often it is along the lines: "You scratch my back, I scratch yours", not actual money. Sarbanes-Oxley does get enforced outside the us...

cheers from the netherlands

And that's the misunderstanding Kaas, OLPC is supposed to be an education project, to empower children to learn, with the XO just being the medium through which learning happens.

And XP on the XO would not be a Constructionist laptop http://www.olpcnews.com/use_cases/education/constructivism_x0_good_bad_ugly.html

kaas,

Further, I'm not sure that OS familiarity is that important, or will be in the future. There's another round of thin clients + network based apps coming with Google Docs / Adobe Online and I'm sure an MS Office Online. Sure, as these things go, I'm sure this online-app fervor won't last forever. Regardless, if you grok computer usage, you can sit down at an XP PC, a Linux PC, or a Mac and figure out the basics. However, lowering the bar for new hackers (in the good sense) to start mucking with the code and seeing what happens is invaluable.

I think this stuff is just an excuse to sell old excess inventory or overstock items to 3rd world nations, because they are hi-tech naive.

You Europeans can now see that electronic paper tech I've trying to tell you about:
http://www.polymervision.com/News-Center/Press-Releases/TelecomItaliaandPolymerVisionannouncetheCE.html

The thought of lots of little Nigerian kids learning powerpoint is quite depressing, especially if they don't have access to the interesting Sugar apps.

Last week we had a press conference in Santiago (Chile) to promote our local campaing 'un computador por niño'(one computer per child). We set up a room with two XO (b4) and two classmates PCs, one running WinXp and the other a Linux distro. I still have the classmates PCs with me but havent' found the time to test them properly. However, the Linux classmate is sweet. It comes with Open Office, Firefox and about the same educational software than the Windows version.

What struck me the most about what happened during our press conference was the way children played with the laptops:It was really impressive to see how they just began using these machines. No instructions needed. It was like something 'natural' for them. Of course they did not even cuestion about the OS or the tech specs. They were k-12 kids, probably around 10-14 years old.

However, the story is different from the teachers point of view. They were a bit concerned about how ´different' Sugar was. We have heard similar concerns from high-ranked officials in government.

It is at this level where MSFT is really good. They understand how government works including all the psychological barriers, fears and uncertainty that Ministries and their staff have to deal with on a daily basis. So they offer full comprehensive solutions, well beyond 'software and hardware', including trainning and tech support. That's their game.

We should certainly expect other Nigerias coming soon I'm afraid.

pn.cl/2007/10/29/cobertura-de-la-conferencia-de-prensa-en-los-medios-y-algo-mas/

@wayan
learning is usually geared towards a goal, not a goal in itself. In this case the kids are learning and gaining abilities, which will help them get a job later.
It is easy to neglect material aspects, if you never have known hardships. I am originally from Tadgikistan, one of the worlds poorest countries today and -please believe me- am I glad I left the country 20 years ago with my parents!
I see OLPC by now not just as the marketing -and excuse my language- bullshit entity as created by Mr. Negroponte, but as a tool to enable kids to be able to support themselves once they grow up. If it takes XP on the ClassMate, so be it.

Please don't get me wrong, I think that the olpc is one sexy laptop!

@Jon (if I may guess, a Heinlein fan :)
true, if you know one OS, you figure the others out quite easily BUT there is still a difference of beeing able to use an OS and office and beeing adept at it.
About the online fever, i wouldn't be too sure. Seeing the developement and future direction of network technology, I can quite well imagine an online market for that kind of applications, especially as internet access gets even more affordable in the future!
Children beeing what they are, they will muck around with XP as much as they will with Linux, I know I did as a kid with Win 3.11 :)
cheers,
kaas

kaas: Specialization is for insects :)

It's just that the thin vs thick client cycle seems pretty steady; there are advances in network capabilities that encourage network-centric computing, then desktops regain their advantage and it swings back. You might recall greenscreen dumb terminals (I have a DEC VT100 in storage somewhere...), then the move to personal PCs, then a short thin-client revival in the 90s. It might be that the pendulum is slowing down and approaching some balance between thick systems with online apps, which could be ... interesting.

I, for one, don't plan to go off the deep end over Microsoft trying to do with cash what they can't do with product.

They've tried buying market share before, a couple of times - Windows CE, Windows on set-top boxes, Windows Mobil, with uniformly bad results.

For Microsoft, this is worse then any other previous situation. The competition is a nebulous entity that's immune to their usual tricks - no "partnering" to death with Microsoft, no rolling a poorly-executed copy of their competing product into the OS - and competing on price would be the punchline to a joke if I could come up with a good setup.

There's no clear path to profitability yet there are billions of potential customers at stake. Too poor generally to be a target for the Microsoft "tax" on new hardware yet there are *so* *many* of them that there's no way for Microsoft to resist the lure. In fact, Microsoft's already trying to figure out some way to extract a buck or renminbi or shekel out of the developing world with their Windows Vista Starter for $3. I don't think they'll do particularly well.

For one thing, what's step two in the nefarious Microsoft plot? It's not like they're selling heroin. The operating system doesn't get used up, dry out or become embarrassingly unfashionable. What can they offer the Windows Vista Starter edition users that they'll willing pay for?

If the plan is to "catch them young and train them right", to acclimate school kids to the use of Microsoft products so that when they enter the working world they'll become advocates for Microsoft products, that's both pretty funny and pretty long term. Long term because teenagers entering the work force aren't going to be making policy decisions about what software to use and funny because anyone who thinks they know what the world will look like ten or twelve years from now is, unless they've got a time-traveling DeLorean, an embarrassingly bad liar.

If anyone can see some relatively clear, relatively reliable path to profitability on the software side of a poor folks computer I'd be interested to hear about it but I don't think there is one.

Allen:

I'm not sure if profitability matters in this case. Like I touched on, the marginal cost of their software, after the first unit, is the cost of a mass-pressed CD with copies of ones and zeroes on it. If only one of those users becomes a paying customer down the line, it's profit (and selling at $3 a pop covers the CD, shipping, and probably the lobbyist/local advocate costs as well).

Once you get such a large userbase, you have lock-in of the market. I don't think many people disagree that Apple produces a better, easier, and more secure product, but they are fighting tooth and nail just to get their market share over 10% in the US, and let's not even mention Linux on the desktop here.

So by getting a huge foothold on the local market, MS is protecting themselves from anyone else getting that foothold. Sure, teens entering the workforce won't be making policy decisions, but if they're as comfortable using Linux as they are MS, an organization will have a good chunk of "change agents" and "early adopters" if anyone wants to move away from a Microsoft environment.

So there may be no path to profitability, but it's a good move to prevent erosion of their monopoly position.

jon,
please don't forget the fact that humans are animals of habit. You always prefer what you know best (if it isn't comepletely screwed up)thus, ten years from now, those teens will have used MS products for ten years and start buying them out of habit.
I also do not see any "nefarious" intent there, just capitalism and a very long shot. Please don't think that poor people can't constitute a profitable market, look at the example of cell carriers in Afrika!
cheers,
kaas

kaas: Exactly; I didn't mean to slight that fact, I just wanted to go in underneath that layer to point out that even if there is never one copy of Windows sold in Nigeria, it's still worth MS's time to establish a monopoly position there.

Very interesting discussion going on here! :-)

Luis said: "It is at this level where MSFT is really good. They understand how government works including all the psychological barriers, fears and uncertainty that Ministries and their staff have to deal with on a daily basis. *So they offer full comprehensive solutions, well beyond 'software and hardware', including trainning and tech support.* That's their game."

I think your observation is spot on! Microsoft really understands that it's not only about the product but a lot of accompanying things such as training, support, etc. Those are the things that OLPC has been disregarding for too long, especially with Negroponte's total misunderstanding of how things would work out ("yeah, let's drop a million laptops on those kids, no training needed for anyone and things will simply work out"). That's why I'm saying that OLPC and the rest of the FOSS community really needs to get off its ass and improve on those points. Then they'll have a better overall product that MSFT will have a hard time competing with.

One a sidenote: I also think that the lack of ease-of-use, training, warrenties, support, etc. is something that's holding back much of the overall Linux effort. I guess that's why Ubuntu has become so popular because they really understand that most people will want more than just the operating system.

So uhm... wait.

Exactly how many XO's have been sold so far? Is there a running count?

The kids don't need training, but the adults do. I also believe that kids can play with any computer and learn faster than adults; but then, the generational gap gets too big. Instead of sending tons of laptops to children, it would have been more productive to distribute XO/OLPC emulators to adults and whiz kids in all countries. The OLPC projet should not be considered only as educational and charitable. Letting small children play with cute laptops in developing countries won't change the world unless adults also play with the same tools, and especially with the same software. If adults don't use free software, their children will eventually want to use the same "adult" tools.

I think it's great that Microsoft is investing millions of dollars in making a thin version of Windows XP for the XO-1 laptop. That is just really great of Microsoft.

What is really sad, is that Nigeria and Libya are getting relatively low volumes of bloated Classmate laptops. They chose to get a few tens of thousands of bloated Classmate laptops instead of going for the much more sustainable and future proof XO design.

All in terms of power consumption, usabillity, wireless, screen readabillity, software optimization for unbloatedness (both Linux Sugar and whatever "XP Lite" that Microsoft can do).

Classmate and Eee on the other hand are nothing else then totally regular laptops with the regular unoptimized structure of a bloatware-laptop with a totally conventionnal DVD player 7" LCD and Flash memory instead of the HDD. On top of that there is no way Classmate and Eee are going to be sold at $200 in quantities of millions. Intel is working on a AMD Geode alternative, and that is GREAT and I hope Intel and AMD push the limits of low power and cheap price for a X86 processor, but Intel should really not insist with the ULV based Classmate and Eee.

So what for Intel if they are not part of XO-1, Intel can be part of XO-2 and can "catch up" within the next few months with Menlow and Diamondville.

But the basic thing is will Intel and others in the PC industry such as Asus and Dell stop thinking they should keep PCs and Laptops expensive and bloated forever. The cheap laptop revolution cannot be stopped now, this society is too open for that to happen now. So Intel should stop delaying OLPC, cause every day that goes by, millions of kids are missing out on being part of the information society and learning about everything.

Actually I do think Microsoft will open-source Windows XP at some point within the next couple of years at one point or another and give licences for it away for free, and that will be cool. At least there will be no other way for Microsoft to compete with Linux for cheap laptops.

Microsoft will keep Vista closed and expensive, but XP should become open and free.

That would bring so much good PR to Microsoft and they can still invest in Vista for business and for the expensive laptops and PCs, Microsoft has to get onto other businesses such as online applications, online advertising, video games, portable and wearable computers.

You and I are also creatures drawn to novelty as well. We balance the comfortingly familiar against the advantageous new and sometime the "new" wins.

You're also assuming that Microsoft's offering will be different enough from open source offerings that the difference will represent a barrier to acceptance. That was once true, it may yet be true in certain particulars but I know for a fact that, at least with the more popular graphical environments like Gnome and KDE the difference between Windows and open source is all but non-existent from the non-technical users point of view. Microsoft's efforts to lock consumers in are also thwarted since the tactics they used no longer enjoy the benefit of novelty. The critical standards, those that govern the Internet, are beyond Microsoft's control.

Also, I'm familiar with the phenomenal growth of the cell phone market in less developed nations and what it means: good profits. But, those profits are nothing like the profit margins Microsoft has traditionally garnered. That $3 price tag in China is, in the American version of Vista, $130 (or at least the last time I checked). The profit margins Microsoft's enjoyed, and that's propelled its stock price into the stratosphere, are far beyond those attained by selling cell time to poor people.

Sure Microsoft's trying to plant some seeds but their success in the U.S. was due in some measure to good luck as well as to business acumen. They're trying to substitute planning for luck. It won't work but what else are they supposed to do?

If you take a look at the history of monopolies over their lifetimes you'll notice they all come to an end. That doesn't mean the people who benefit from the monopoly will go quietly. Quite the opposite. They'll do everything they can to extend the monopoly as the market closes it's inevitable grip on them.

The most successful monopolies don't even come to an end. They adapt to the new circumstances by abandoning the tactics of the monopoly. Evidence IBM. The company's name is no longer synonymous with computers yet it is still a large, successful enterprise. But it's no longer a monopoly. Microsoft may make the transition to non-monopolistic corporation but I have some doubts. Their efforts to diversify haven't been particularly successful and far from conquering new worlds, I believe they'll have to start fighting for their core business - desktop operating systems and office suites - in the near future. They product line isn't particularly attractive stripped of its monopoly status.

The use of the word "nefarious" was to needle our left-wing posters. A trifle of not-too-guilty pleasure.

There is a VERY good reason why the world (and OLPC) should fight Windows on XO or Classmate:

SECURITY

Who will protect these children?

Who will protect the computers?

Who will protect US against this zombie army?

Is there anyone in the world that believes these Nigerian Asus laptops will be functional on the internet for more than a week?

If you need anti-virus, you already lost. From a fundamental point of view, neither XP nor Vista can be secured.

Look at the work that has been done to secure the XO and Sugar? Look at what changes in the OS and internet were needed to make this happen?

Windows on millions of low-cost laptops in the developing world means a doubling of spam and scams, at the least.

If you don't believe that, look at the situation in China, where a large fraction of network traffic is generated by malware.

Winter

Who's got the details of the secret Apple project to port OSX to the XO's?

PS: if Microsoft made a version of Vista that ran well in a 400 MHz machine, they could make a huge profit by just selling that to ordinary 2GHz First World customers, as an upgrade to Vista. (Indeed, OLPC has pushed the Linux community to make smaller and faster software, and is succeeding in various ways.)

News tip: T-Mobile's giving a year of free Internet cafe service to anyone who buys the G1G1.

"And if nothing else, what happens to the View Source key in XP?"
- it becomes the dear CAPS LOCK KEY that was left out of the XO!

charbax: I'll believe that XP will go open source when MSDOS, 3.1, 95, or 98 go first. Even then, everything since has been built using the NT platform as its base, and I don't think MS will let any of that leak out, well, ever.

Jon mentions the danger of people being locked into XP. Part of this would likely be document formats. Another would be training, esp of support personel.

One thing that gives me some hope is that I think once XO with sugar gets into some wide use in the next few months, it will get a huge amount of good publicity and people will see it is a much superior solution, and pressure their governments to adopt it.

n; we're already working on a porting on this wonderful news; but thanks!

Look, this is a free world and I believe no one should hog-down a child's potential through software thats all locked up. To all parties involved, please cut some slack for the OpenSource community. People (including kids) should be given the right to choose...but only after getting a comprehensive preview of whats out there (software). Let 'em all see what Windows is about...in it's locked up form or unlocked (if Microsoft can/will do that), then let 'em see what OpenSource ware (Linux et al) is all about. The players involved should wake up, sit up, shape up or ship out.

I'm reminded of the Firesign comedy when they bomb nigeria with 20,000 hard back copies of the naked lunch, love will overcome, at last liberation, it's not a laptop, it's not a fishing rod, it's a passport to the global community, no longer will there be only 1 computer owner in the global village of 100, but as in "Ghandi's blunders" the direction is right when it helps the least amongst us.

joy

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