Volume 4, Number 41 -- November 6, 2007

Mandriva in a Tizzy after Microsoft Trumps Linux in Nigeria

Published: November 6, 2007

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

It is tough to compete with a monopoly under the best of circumstances, not because the odds are stacked against you, but because the money is. And that can be frustrating, which explains why Francois Bancilhon, the chief executive officer at commercial Linux distributor Mandriva, hammered out a somewhat hostile and probably hastily written open letter to Microsoft's chief executive officer, Steve Ballmer, after Microsoft was able to get in on a big Linux deal in Nigeria last week.

Such things add a little drama to the information technology racket, and they also demonstrate that the top brass at the world's largest and smallest IT suppliers often fall prey to the same human impulses of sarcasm, anger, and defiance. Open letters like the one Bancilhon penned also show that it is always good to print it out, set it aside for a few minutes, and edit the letter before posting it. But that's 19th century thinking. Spelling is bourgeois in a 21st century world dominated by email, chat, and text messaging.

As Bancilhon explained in his letter, which you can read here, Mandriva had won a deal with the Nigerian government to supply the country with PCs based on an Intel's Classmate PC laptop design, which is a low-powered, network-enabled, low-cost laptop akin the One Laptop Per Child design that has been kicking around for the past two years and trying to put Linux in the hands of children in developing countries. In July, after years of taunting by Nicholas Negroponte, the former director of the MIT Media Lab who is spearheading the OLPC effort, Intel joined the effort with its Classmate PC. What has Bancilhon hot under the collar is that it negotiated with the Nigerian government to have 17,000 Classmate PCs delivered to the country running Mandriva Linux, and then Microsoft applied some pressure and voila! Suddenly those Classmate PCs will be delivered with a special flash edition Mandriva Linux, but will be promptly reloaded with a Windows variant upon delivery.

Nigeria is paying for Mandriva Linux, as stipulated by the contract, but is also presumably paying for Windows, too. Which seems awfully stupid, unless you are Microsoft, or unless you are the Nigerian government and you wanted the Classmate PCs to have Windows from the beginning and were willing to accept Linux instead only because of the cost and Microsoft has tossed it in for a nominal price or for free. This is not about money in the short term, but control of the market over the long haul.

And so Bancilhon took out his anger on his empty blog page: "Wow! I'm impressed, Steve! What have you done to these guys to make them change their mind like this? It's quite clear to me, and it will be to everyone. How do you call what you just did Steve? There is various names for it, I'm sure you know them."

Bancilhon has already made it pretty clear that Mandriva is not interested in a sales and IP protection deal like those inked by Novell, Xandros, and Linspire, and it seems pretty clear that even if it did want one, Mandriva would not get one at this point.

But Mandriva is keeping its chin up after winning and sort of losing the Nigerian PC deal. "Of course, I will keep fighting this one and the next one, and the next one," Bancilhon said. "You have the money, the power, and maybe we have a different sense of ethics you and I, but I still believe that hard work, good technology and ethics can win, too."


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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
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