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Mandriva's Open Letter To Steve Ballmer 357

An anonymous reader writes "An entry on the Mandriva Blog, written by Mandriva CEO François Bancilhon, says that the Nigerian government, after ordering thousands of Classmate PCs with Mandriva Linux installed, has suddenly decided that they will instead install Windows. They will pay for the pre-loaded Mandriva Linux on the low-cost computing devices intended for children in the developing world, but immmediately replace the OS. The blog doesn't quite use the 'B' word but does suggest that this was not a decision that the Nigerian government made on its own."
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Mandriva's Open Letter To Steve Ballmer

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  • Pretty bold. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:03AM (#21195987) Homepage Journal
    There are those who are going to say that what Microsoft did isn't wrong and that it's 'just business'. If Bob's Concrete Construction paid the government $1 million to get the contract to build a new major freeway bypass, you guys would be calling it bribery. But when it's Microsoft paying the government to use Windows you call it business.

    Someone with this viewpoint -- please explain this fanboy logic to me.
  • by RandoX ( 828285 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:09AM (#21196093)
    From one perspective (although undoubtedly an unpopular one here on /.) a free copy of Windows is worth more than a free copy of Mandriva. If MS came by later and offered free, or heavily discounted copies of Windows, I could see how Nigeria would accept it. After all, it vastly increases the range of applications that are now available for them to use. It's a great deal for Microsoft. Get those Nigerian kids entrenched in the Microsoft camp at a young age. Like I said, it may not be popular here, but I can see how this deal could be viewed as good for both parties by both parties...
  • by aiwarrior ( 1030802 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:12AM (#21196137)
    Quote:but what is the "B" word? Blackmail?

    I do not have mod points but the parent's question is legitimate.
    Actually articles that got phrases like "b,c,etc words" should not get to the front page. Besides there being hundreds of words that start with b, it's just bad journalism to write in such a childish way. If you don't want to say the word because it's rude or inappropriate there are most likely synonyms in the English language.
    I'm not an english native speaker and i can find a lot of meanings for "b word".

    Mod parent underrated

    Hugs and kisses
  • by RayMarron ( 657336 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:22AM (#21196263) Homepage
    Except for the fact that it used to be a $200 laptop with free upgrades and more free applications you can shake a stick at. Now it's a $200 Windows computer. The version currently installed may be free, but the next one won't be. Nor are a majority of the applications it has available. In my eyes, the cost of that machine over its lifetime just went WAY up.
  • Re:Pretty bold. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by malkavian ( 9512 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:23AM (#21196273)
    Except they've already paid for the Mandriva to come pre-loaded. So Mandriva already put in the winning bid.
    How can Microsoft undercut something that's already been paid for, apart from giving money per copy of Windows installed?
    And when you end up giving money to a government to use something, yes, people do tend to use the word 'bribery' a little.
  • Re:Pretty bold. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BronsCon ( 927697 ) <> on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:27AM (#21196321) Journal
    Did you read the summary? I did. "You buyt those computers and pay to have Mandriva preloaded, then wipe them and install Windows" doesn't sound like a very competitive bid to me.
  • by siddesu ( 698447 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:47AM (#21196613)
    But I'll give you another perspective, by necessity pure fiction, of how it could work. Suppose there is this small Eastern European country, nevermind which one. It has a minister in charge for the state administration. He could be a small, nerdy guy with heavy glasses on a big nose. His salary isn't great, and he has a lot of expenses.

    So, what has he gotta do? He's gotta make some money on the side. But how? Well, he figures, he'll get a "commission" on what his department pays. He doesn't know much about IT, he doesn't care much about his department. But he knows how much his expenses are. So, he makes a calculation. He needs X. His commission rate is Y. The total budget he needs is Z = X/Y or thereabouts. Then, he goes shopping.

    What does shopping look like? He has some people he trusts, very few. They make some calls, private. They talk about lotsa things, but one thing is repeated. "We have budget Z, and we need an offer". The people being called of course know what Y is, so they figure out they got Z-Y. They make some offers. The minister picks his candidates. Then real work begins.

    The suppliers can only be chosen by winning a bid. So, the already agreed offer is then carefully drafted into the conditions for the bidding, in such way that only the chosen can win. Then, after all preparations, the bid is announced, applications are gathered by all -- suckers and winners, and, after a procedure, a winner is announced.

    Sometimes suckers try hard. Real hard. They do a lot of work (including some trash-digging and what you not), and even manage to win. But they win the public auction. They never win the one the minister has set up, because they have never had the minister's offer -- it is not for everyone. So, if they win, the minister loses.

    That is why even if they win, they never win. There is always a change afterwards, and they kicked out. On a technicality, or a new rule, or just on a whim -- it doesn't matter. They can't win, because they don't even compete. That's how it could work on one side.

    Consider the other side now. A big software company is determined not to let go of the market in that country. But what is the market there? First of all, there are the home installs. These are all pirated, and collection is not possible. So, the software vendor scratches them out. For now. There is the business sector. They are also kinda semi-legal, and need to be squeezed, but for that the vendor needs the helping hand from the government. So, the vendor scratches em out ... for now. Finally, there is the government. First, they gotta be legal. They have reputation to mind, besides, there are always those "free trade" incentives the vendor can play. Besides, there is the Z - Y thingy.

    So, the vendor invests a (small) amount in an office, hires some very shrewd local staff. Pays big salary, taxis, etc. All they need to do is get the government deal. So they do. The vendor doesn't want to know how, of course. So they play the "we're so blind" game. Somehow someone in the vendor's office gets the call. Then they are on it. They give the offer. They win.

    Then the fun begins. The vendor's formula is usually setup so that from the first (Z - Y) they get enough to finance their operations in that country for a decade. Then another deal comes. And another. The more, the merrier. Until the budget is used up, it is all Z - Y. Relations improve. Then, the government starts to squeeze on the businesses. Then on the home users. And the vendor keeps profiting. The relationship can expand publicly -- and it could be "free" sometimes. Like, all government employees receive "free" licenses for home use. Or some schools get "free" licenses. Or some instiutions. There maybe some protests from other interested parties.

    But, whatever happens on the surface, the game is the same. There is always the Z - Y equation in the background. Those who don't compete in that auction never win. Even when they do. And so it goes.
  • by Erris ( 531066 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:52AM (#21196711) Homepage Journal

    Most of what you say stopped being true in the late 90s.

    If MS came by later and offered free, or heavily discounted copies of Windows, I could see how Nigeria would accept it.

    For it to even start to break even, M$ is going to have to pay to have it installed as well as providing all of the required software free of charge. Note that M$ does not own all of the software required, like Adobe Reader, Flash and countless other must have software packages.

    [Windows] vastly increases the range of applications that are now available for them to use.

    The only thing increased by Windows is the rage of stuff you need to buy. The free software world gives you a choice of quality applications that are cost free and easily modified to suit any particular purpose. Bits in a box will never be as good a match for your needs and they often come with additional and costly restrictions. There are very few upsides left to M$ domination.

    Like I said, it may not be popular here, but I can see how this deal could be viewed as good for both parties by both parties.

    We can be sure that the deal was great for the parties directly involved but the users have been sold.

  • by aproposofwhat ( 1019098 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @11:02AM (#21196881)
    Given that Nigeria is around 50% Muslim, Baksheesh [] is probably the best B-word to use in this context, as it's less prejudicial than "Bribery"

    It could well be that Ballmer and his friends are making a charitable gesture by donating / heavily discounting 17,000 Windows licenses - there's probably a nice little earner in it for whoever is running the project too, as 17,000 Windows installs will take a good deal of manpower / project management / consultancy fees etc.

  • I Don't Get It (Score:4, Insightful)

    by theManInTheYellowHat ( 451261 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @11:12AM (#21197061)
    So they had a computer loaded with a bunch of apps and an OS, all tuned for the device. Then they wipe that off and put some version of Windows with write, paint and Outlook Express on it? Hopefully they got minesweeper and solitaire too, with the promise of porting Freecell with the next service pack.
  • by wile_e_wonka ( 934864 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @11:16AM (#21197133)
    I don't think merely donating or heavily discounting Windows would do the job if the government was "sold" as the open and custonizability aspect of Mandriva. I think the cost to Nigeria for Windows would have to be negative to get them to pay for and ship Mandriva and then pay the cost of replacing Mandriva with Windows. By this I mean that it seems to me that the only way for this to make economic sense is for Microsoft to cover the cost of Mandriva, the cost of a replacement, and then add something for incentive to replace Mandriva at all. (that last part we call a bribe)
  • Re:Pretty bold. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by IDontAgreeWithYou ( 829067 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @11:50AM (#21197699)
    It is possible that they had SOME computers before this deal.
  • Re:Pretty bold. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by URADingus2 ( 908555 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @11:51AM (#21197715)
    I'm not a MS fan, but this argument seems flawed. Lets say you bought a car from Honda after looking at the options. Once you got your car home, a Honda salesperson convinced you to pull the old engine out and put a new Yugo engine in. Now that they own these laptops nothing's compelling them to leave them as-is.

    I do agree that its a loss for Nigeria, but I'm not convinced that its unethical at all.

  • by RoyBoy ( 20792 ) <roy AT sanwalka DOT org> on Thursday November 01, 2007 @12:06PM (#21197989) Homepage
    Um, I hate to be the one to point this out, but this story is not about the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) [] project.

    Nigeria, in it's infinite wisdom, chose not to participate in the OLPC project. Instead, they opted to go for the Intel Classmate PC [], and were originally convinced to use a model supplied with Mandriva Linux and some fairly extensive regionalization and software customization developed and preloaded. I submit that it was this same customization which must have been the deciding factor in selecting this platform to begin with.

    The issue at hand is that now, after they agreed to a initial contract for 17,000 units, they have suddenly and without any apparant rationale, decided to take delivery of this order as committed and then pay to have Microsoft Windows installed on every system. There has been no reasonable explanation put forward, either by the Nigerian Government, Microsoft or and third party as to why Nigeria would choose to incur the non-zero costs of acquisition and deployment of Windows on these systems.

    It is not a matter of comparing the costs of Linux vs. Windows, as the cost of the Mandriva licenses are embedded in the acquisition and are thus a sunk cost. Even if Microsoft agreed to give away the Windows licenses for free, there would still be a costs to customize and install Windows on the 17,000 target machines. There is no way to get around the fact that this is a real, after-the-fact new cost that either the Nigerian Government is paying out of pocket (with no explanation to it's taxpayers as to the reason), or is being footed by Microsoft for some improper purpose (Microsoft shareholders are not in the business of thrid world charity). As well, there has been no discussion as to any possible customization and/or regionalization of the target platform (Classmate PC with Windows XP), much less any comparison to the work committed to by Mandriva.

    Lest that last argument be discounted, allow me to argue that there is no demonstrable reason to have selected a Classmate PC running Mandriva for (or any other Linux) for $200 over the OLPC XO platform (with customized, pre-installed Linux) at $100 per unit, unless it has to do with the customization and/or suitability to task of the specific bundled platform. Please note that in his open letter, Francois clearly stated that this was an open process that Microsoft fought long and hard against, and still Mandriva managed to beat out both the Classmate + Windows and OLPC + Linux options, only to suffer a very odd reversal at the 11th hour.

    If any Microsoft apologist here can invent a reasonable explanation for this situation, I suggest you save posting here and instead apply to Microsoft PR for an immediate position.
  • by itsdapead ( 734413 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @12:07PM (#21198001)

    Was the point of OLPC to provide low cost computers to needy children or to promote Mandriva/OSS ??

    It certainly wasn't to promote MS Windows to the developing world or to lock them into proprietary standards. Plus, I think, a certain amount of thought went into tailoring the Linux distro and user interface for the target market.

  • Re:Pretty bold. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 01, 2007 @12:16PM (#21198123)
    You missed the parent's point entirely. They've already paid Mandriva. No matter how much cheaper Microsoft could have done it, Nigeria has already paid Mandriva. However small Microsoft's price, paying Mandriva, and then paying Microsoft to undo that is going to be more expensive than Mandriva's offer alone. The only way Microsoft can make a truly better offer at this point is to charge Nigeria negative money, i.e. bribe them.
  • Re:Pretty bold. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mabhatter654 ( 561290 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @12:40PM (#21198429)
    funny that the head of Mandriva "doesn't have all the information". Think about that .. this is an official blog and even the higher-ups at Mandriva don't have all the details as to why their contracted customer is changing the deal after they started paying!!! What else is left to do, they bid fairly, delivered then got told, sorry, but we're not using your software. That gives them the money, but steals the successful implementation, they can't use this customer as an example of good service and good software because M$ stopped the customer from using Mandriva's services at the last minute.
  • Re:Pretty bold. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by h4rm0ny ( 722443 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @12:47PM (#21198541) Journal

    I guess one of the reasons that so many people here are so readily suspicious of bribery (other than Microsoft's dubious business history, or course), is that to many of us here, we don't think it is in Nigeria's interests to replace Linux on these laptops. A very good case can be made that children will learn IT skills more successfully on the Linux system due to a number of factors, but the configurability and openess of the platform being a major part of it, along with a massive existing resource detailing how it works, a supportive (even evangelical) community and not to mention the way a Linux box segues so naturally into a development platform with the wide range of easily available and installable languages, compilers, web-servers, et al. Fostering a native IT community / business is one of the goals of the OLPC program after all. And these same qualities, though not taken advantage of by all, mean that those who do take advantage of it can share the benefits with the rest of their community. This is particularly important when adapting a system to a new culture and / or language. In the long term, we can also all see that the interests of a country are better served by a free and self-maintainable software basis, than a closed proprietary one which, we should remember, gets superseded every few years.

    There is also the issue of networking, as one of the in-built features of the existing configuration is that the laptops should very, very easily configure themselves as a mesh network which is hugely useful in an environment where bandwidth is scarce or erratic or both. The idea is that one person gets the driver / package / whatever and then it can quickly be shared around the community or with others. I think we all have an idea how fiddly this could get with XP (or Vista). Which reminds me - the user restrictions are another advantage in Linux which will have a greater effect in this sort of environment where the laptops are more likely passed around and frequently meddled with by people who have yet to learn the do's and don'ts. I've said enough to make my point, but I can't stop thinking of advantages. The lack of all the serial numbers and authentication will likewise be a big plus where people may often want to just stick in a standard install disc and get an "as new" system.

    Most of us agree, even if we prefer Windows, that Linux is a serious competitor technically to Windows and that the main thing preventing it having a big market share is that it doesn't already have a big market share (I'm sure you understand what I mean). So the question arises for us, in an environment where it could suddenly have that big market share and eliminate its biggest weakness, and in an environment where it has some large advantages over its rival, would the government of Nigeria suddenly declare they wanted to spend a large amount of money on replacing it with something else?

    It doesn't have to be bribery and corruption, but I think you can see why many people who understand the relative merits of the two systems, it seems a very probably explanation.

    (And tangentially, to forestall those who think bribery is no different to marketing, it is bribery because it is directing gain to a few decision makers to create a worse deal for the many, many others who will be affected by that decision).
  • Re:Pretty bold. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CustomDesigned ( 250089 ) <> on Thursday November 01, 2007 @12:58PM (#21198747) Homepage Journal

    And if part of the 'bribe' is ifnorming Nigeria about all the software that -won't- run on Mandriva but will run on Windows? Maybe they've already GOT some of that software, and they don't want to have to spend money replacing it as well.

    One of the unexpected bennies of going all Linux at our household was discovering that a bunch of Windows 3.1 and Dos software that no longer runs on modern Windows (games and educational) suddenly works again. The kids are delighted. JETPACK.EXE might not have 3D graphics, but the gameplay is great. For modern Windows software, I think you'll find that Virtual Box [] will run any XP software that wine doesn't handle. Or buy VMware and run just about anything that doesn't require high-performance video. Or buy win4lin (paravirtualized Windows for Linux) to run multi-media Windows software better than Windows.

  • Re:Pretty bold. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Thursday November 01, 2007 @01:33PM (#21199341)

    Has anyone provided the tiniest bit of evidence that Microsoft paid the Nigerian government?

    Yes: Microsoft's history of corruption and anti-competitive behavior over the entire history of the company.

    At this point, it's up to Microsoft to prove its innocence, not the other way around!

  • by nagora ( 177841 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @02:14PM (#21199921)

    Here's a couple of other people musing on the subject. It's hard to prove, of course, but it does seem spooky how every trip abroad to announce a big donation is followed by meetings on the subject of Windows contracts. As I said - no one actually states there's a connection (would you?).

    Business Week []

    The Hindu Newspaper []

    I mean, does it REALLY matter what O/S is on the computer that the reaches these people?

    Of course it does. Software is the first breakthrough in resource creation since farming. New and valuable things can be created and then copies made for almost no cost (for the copies). The new economy that this could create would free the poor of their long running reliance on the rich for plant and capital. That is not something Gates and his multi-billionare club want to see, since it this they who reap the reward of that reliance.

    It matters a lot.


  • by sr8outtalotech ( 1167835 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @03:39PM (#21201083)
    Microsoft has for a long time targeted youth in an attempt to create lifelong customers. I bet Nigeria got a sweet deal. Even if MS loses money on this venture how much do they stand to make in the long run? I know many corporate types that follow the creed, "Winning isn't everyting, it's the only thing." I'm sure Steve B. is not losing sleep over having deprived the school children of Nigeria the opportunity to use Linux (in this instance).
  • Re:Pretty bold. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Gr8Apes ( 679165 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @05:10PM (#21202661)
    And you got marked insightful....

    To spell it out - these are OLPC PCs, they're not exactly top of the line performance beasts. If they already have software, and the Windows OS to run it on, odds are it will continue to run on that hardware as it will outperform the OLPC machine running even XP, and certainly Vista.

    OLPCs are not configured to run Vista, or even XP, well.
  • Re:Pretty bold. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dlsmith ( 993896 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @09:06PM (#21205775)

    The only way Microsoft can make a truly better offer at this point is to charge Nigeria negative money

    Except that they're not offering the same product. Maybe what Microsoft is offering is worth enough to the buyers that they're willing to pay X for the Mandriva contract, plus Y (where Y > 0) for the Microsoft contract. Sure, Microsoft could have made X+Y for the same offering if they'd gotten there first, but if they're happy to charge Y, and the client is happy to pay X+Y, then everything works out.

    Doesn't mean there's definitely nothing underhanded going on. But it does mean you can't automatically assume that negative money is being charged.

  • by Starky ( 236203 ) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @11:31PM (#21206883)
    The other posts seem to lack the cultural context to understand what the Mandriva CEO was intimating and what may very well have happened.

    Bribery and corruption is just a fact of life in most of the world. I have been living in a developing nation for over a year now, and I can say from experience that most Slashdotters who are writing from the U.S. or Europe have no idea how endemic, and even accepted, corruption is outside the West. If the allegation were true, it would not be the least bit surprising to the average Nigerian.

    Microsoft would not bribe the Nigerian government. They would bribe a few well-placed officials, then charge the Nigerian government enough to cover both their costs and their bribes and earn a tidy profit.

    Supposing the alleged allegation is true, the winners would Microsoft and a few Nigerian decision-makers. The losers would be the Nigerian taxpayers and/or, if costs were passed on to the schools that use the computers, the children.

    However, if a bribe were given, under the FCPA (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act), someone at Microsoft would be criminally liable. U.S. citizens who bribe overseas government officials are subject to prosecution at home.

The intelligence of any discussion diminishes with the square of the number of participants. -- Adam Walinsky