Linux wins Nigerian school desktops back from Microsoft

It looks like the open letter to Steve Ballmer from Mandriva may have had an impact. From the article:

Mandriva had closed a deal in mid-August to provide a customised Linux operating system and support for 17,000 Intel Classmate PCs intended for Nigerian schools, but found out last week that the company deploying the computers for the government, Technology Support Center (TSC), planned to wipe the computers’ disks and install Windows XP instead.

Now, however, a government agency funding 11,000 of the PCs has overruled the supplier. Nigeria’s Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) wants to keep Mandriva Linux on the Classmate PCs, said an official who identified himself as the programme manager for USPF’s Classmate PCs project.

“We are sticking with that platform,” said the official, who would not give his name.

Mba-Uzoukwu wrote that Microsoft is still negotiating an agreement that would give TSC US$400,000 (£190,323) for marketing activities around the Classmate PCs when those computers are converted to Windows.

“Microsoft is able to offer a comprehensive education solution – including software, training and support – on the 17,000 Classmate PCs for 200 schools across Nigeria,” the statement said.

After public statements from Mandriva officials implied the marketing deal is legally questionable, Microsoft said last week that it complies with international law and the law of the countries in which it operates.

It’s not clear how much TSC would pay for each Windows XP licence. Efforts to reach senior managers at TSC, which is a subsidiary of Alteq.ict, an IT consulting business in Nigeria, were unsuccessful.

However, details on Mandriva’s deal with TSC have emerged. Mandriva is providing a customised OS for Nigeria for under $10 (£4.7) per licence, including support, according to its local partner.

It’s clear that Microsoft is willing to go to pretty great lengths to ensure that it’s able to put some stakes down in the growing third world economies. I’m not a lawyer, so don’t have any insight into the legality of this $400,000 “marketing” deal, but it seems that for now the machines are going to be delivered with Mandriva and stay with Mandriva. I have a feeling we haven’t heard the end of this story though.


An open letter to Steve Ballmer from Mandriva

The CEO of Mandriva just posted an open letter to Steve Ballmer:

I’m sure we’re way too small for you to know me. You know, we’re one of these tiny Linux company working hard for our place on the market. We produce a Linux Distro, Mandriva Linux. The last edition, Mandriva 2008 was seen as a pretty good version and we’re proud of it. You should give it a spin, I’m sure you’d like it. We also happen to be one of the Linux companies that did not sign an agreement with your company (nobody’s perfect).

We recently closed a deal with the Nigerian Government. Maybe you heard about it, Steve. 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 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.”

How is it, you wonder, that a country like Nigeria has the money to not only buy the Mandriva+Classmate solution but also then throw Mandriva away and pay for all those Windows licenses? The answer, I’m sure, is that they don’t. Microsoft is probably marking the license cost to near $0 and may even be tossing in some kicker money (speculation on my part). The thing is, Microsoft has the money to do these kinds of things… and will for some time. Is that really fair competition though? I’d say no, but I’d say it’s also an admission that they can’t win with their old way of doing things. That has to be scary realization for a company that is so used to winning. Kudos to Mandriva for keeping up the fight and for winning deals like this one. I’d guess we won’t be seeing them sign one of the patent covenant deals any time soon.