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Microsoft's XO Laptop Strategy 242

gbulmash writes "Microsoft is spending a 'non-trivial' amount of money to get Windows XP working on the OLPC project's XO laptop. But why? Despite the conjecture that the Linux-based XO could convince millions of people in the developing world that they don't need Windows and build a huge base of developers for Linux, there still remains the question of how Microsoft would convince owners of XO laptops to buy and install Windows XP over the functional Linux-based OS already on it. It's doubtful that Microsoft could encourage or coerce Negroponte to put XP on the machine, so whose arms will they twist?"
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Microsoft's XO Laptop Strategy

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  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <> on Friday October 26, 2007 @12:19PM (#21130081) Journal

    Microsoft is spending a 'non-trivial' amount of money to get Windows XP working on the OLPC project's XO laptop. But why?
    I'm going to propose two reasons, both are quite laughable.

    The first is the driving force behind all of Microsoft's actions (and, in fact, almost everyone's): money.

    They are developing this so that people can pay an extra $20 to get XP on the OLPC. I assume they will have to drop the regular license price of $90 to something not one half the cost of the laptop. Well, for common sense reasons and also the fact that it destroys the idea of a cheap laptop for kids.

    The second idea is that they've finally caved. They finally recognized that releasing an XP shell for free (but not open source) will guaranty their survival because it will allow the poor, the desperate & the cheap to still run windows and possibly alleviate piracy. The idealists like us will still use open source but for practicality purposes many will go along with this. Vista will still cost you an arm and a leg but it will be shinier and flashier and souped up compared to this shell of XP. This will also ensure that the children will grow up accustomed to the broken model of Windows and any development they do will be Win32.

    So, I see this as in all likelihood a cross between the two above. They will release Windows XP trimmed down but it will only run if it recognizes the hardware as XO (to prevent you and I from using it to run an MMO only on Windows without the operating system or SVCHost process taking up 30% of my resources). So it's free on OLPCs but still costs fat cat Americans & Europeans moneys. They retain some profit and are seeding themselves into the minds of youths that will be responsible for saving their countries from third world status.

    It's the same strategy they used with their "Academic Alliance" software giving to universities & the not so strange donations that Gates oversees when a village in a third world nation receives computers and technical support worth thousands of USD.

    Microsoft's interests are their survival and money.

    Nicholas Negroponte should be thrilled that Microsoft is already recognizing his success and I wish to send him my gratitude and admiration as so far he has been the only person in this picture with purely good motives. Also all the unnamed developers that have made this possible whether they be employed to do it or not.

    Don't get me wrong, it's great that the world's largest software maker is fighting to give more options to people in need. I'm just afraid that they're going to try to maneuver putting their software on instead of the Linux kernel and we'll have to deal with Windows/Internet Explorer's horrible insecurities on a global level.
  • I guess (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rik Sweeney ( 471717 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @12:19PM (#21130091) Homepage
    that Microsoft could give away XP and subsidise the price of the laptop.

    Sure they'd make a loss, but wouldn't it be worth it just to secure dominance?
  • by corsec67 ( 627446 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @12:22PM (#21130115) Homepage Journal
    Now MS will have to compete against a working, installed OS that is on the laptops, based on their own merit. Since Linux can be free, including Windows will increase the price, and might not be as usable.

    Finally we can see if windows success is due in a large part to it being included in most computer purchases.
  • by onion2k ( 203094 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @12:24PM (#21130161) Homepage

    Despite the conjecture that the Linux-based XO could convince millions of people in the developing world that they don't need Windows and build a huge base of developers for Linux, there still remains the question of how Microsoft would convince owners of XO laptops to buy and install Windows XP over the functional Linux-based OS already on it.

    Buy and install? Why would these developing nations have to buy Windows? Microsoft could intend to give it to them for free. Because they're so fluffy and altruistic and gosh-darn-nice of course, there'd be no ulterior motive whatsoever.

  • FUD (Score:2, Insightful)

    by caffiend666 ( 598633 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @12:26PM (#21130187) Homepage
    By saying they are about to support the XO system, they create doubt about the current XO system and limit supporters. Enough people will wait to see what Microsoft will do, that even if Microsoft doesn't do anything, the support for the Linux XO system will be limited. This is similar to what Microsoft did to Novell Directory Server and other systems. If Microsoft was genuinely interested on a computer on every desk, they would have put out their own XO system a decade ago and would be supporting the current XO project. No, they are interested solely in control.
  • Crack Dealers (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ShaolinMonk ( 962704 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @12:27PM (#21130205)
    This is a very old and proven method of marketing. A good example of this is still in use today. Crack Dealers. Give your crack away to children, so they become dependant on it. Once they are completely addicted, you have created a demand. Which allows Microsoft to continue business with little fear of anyone thinking any differently then they want. Because no addicted customer is going to revolt against their crack dealer. But they will introduce their friends and family to crack, and continue the cycle.
  • If I was Ballmer (Score:4, Insightful)

    by saibot834 ( 1061528 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @12:28PM (#21130225)
    The most clever thing to do for Microsoft is hand out copies of Windows for free in the third world. If they don't give them for free (or at _very_ low cost), people won't use Windows and get used to GNU/Linux and other free alternatives to Windows. M$ has to decide what they want: No money now, a bigger market share of GNU/Linux and no money later - OR - no money now, Windows in the developing ([insert oblg. joke her]) world and perhaps much money later, when they can afford to buy Windows.
    I think a Microsoft employee has already said this about China: Installed pirated copies of Windows help Microsoft more than installed copies of GNU/Linux.

    It's the same in the drug business: you get the first cigaret gratis, and once you are addicted, you gotta pay...
  • makes sense (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ILongForDarkness ( 1134931 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @12:41PM (#21130419)
    What is the philosophy behind OLPC? That limiting computer access to the moneyed is inheritally wrong and causes them to remain impoverished. The corollary to this is that if you give them modern technology at least some will succeed. Well if they succeed do you as Microsoft want them buying MS products or, used to Linux?

    This is even more an issue, as with the free versions of Visual studio, MS is allowing people to learn how to develop for MS platforms for free. MS has always believed strongly in the "we don't sell the OS, we sell the ecosystem" philosophy, and that is what they are trying to do. Help people learn to develop for their products, so they continue to have a growing market for upgrades.

  • by Coryoth ( 254751 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @12:43PM (#21130461) Homepage Journal

    ...there still remains the question of how Microsoft would convince owners of XO laptops to buy and install Windows XP over the functional Linux-based OS already on it. It's doubtful that Microsoft could encourage or coerce Negroponte to put XP on the machine, so whose arms will they twist?"
    I expect Microsoft will be going after the governments that are buying the XO laptops and then distributing them. It makes for a juicy target as it allows Microsoft to have Windows on the laptops in an entire country. It also has the advantage that it gives Microsoft a good leverage point: they can take a two pronged approach to convincing governments that they should do a mass reinstall of all the laptops with Windows before distributing them.
    1. Microsoft can pitch the whole "Windows is the standard, and you need to prepare your children to compete on the global market", suggesting that anything but Windows is going to cripple the children once they use anything other than the laptops. The usual FUD.
    2. Microsoft can have side negotiations about bulk deals on Microsoft software for the government. Discounts won't cost MS that much, but they could represent a decent chunk of change to some of the countries that are looking to be involved in this program.
    That makes for an easy point of attack, and allow Microsoft to subvert the XO laptop scheme quite effectively. Essentially they just go straight to the middleman with a combination of FUD and bribes, with the result that many of the laptops end uyp training the kids in Windows.
  • Re:I can't wait (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @12:53PM (#21130629)

    Are you saying Linux is shovelware?

    Linux doesn't have the stifling EULA restrictions and technical hobbling that make "emerging market" versions of Windows into shovelware.

  • Re:Dead End (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Churla ( 936633 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @01:00PM (#21130793)
    Yes, they may stop SELLING it.

    As mentioned elsewhere in this thread imagine what MS could gain by saying:

    "OK, Vista is our flagship product. XP is our old class of product that's stable, but we aren't going to be developing new capabilities for it anymore. So from now on XP is free. If you like XP, you'll probably LOVE Vista, and there will be a nice upgrade path for you for a small fee."

    What happens if MS offers up an OS for free too? Sure they stop making money on OS licenses. But if people are locked into the platform that's just money down the road on applications and/or bringing them up to Vista.
  • by Peter Simpson ( 112887 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @01:03PM (#21130831)
    The software that MS will provide will, by necessity, be hardware-specific to the XO platform.
    You almost have to do that, as there's no hard drive (you'll need a flash file system instead)
    and minimal RAM, and a non-standard display. As a matter of fact, XO doesn't look anything like the
    platform MS is used to running on.

    The OS Microsoft finally provides may look like XP to the user,
    but I suspect it's going to be more like a highly modified WinCE inside.

    They'll give the OS away...after all, it will only run on the XO...and advertise how
    they're helping to educate the developing world's children -- the Microsoft way.

    And the reason they're going to all this effort?

    I think MS sees this as a strategic move. OLPC potentially delivers a pretty
    large number of young eyeballs. It would be a *very* Bad Thing for their
    first exposure to computers to involve a friendly penguin wearing the label "Linux".

    Much better for future MS sales that they see the Windows logo.
  • by evilandi ( 2800 ) <> on Friday October 26, 2007 @01:03PM (#21130839) Homepage
    Well, we have this thing called 'the internet' and it allows all software to be distributed 'in bulk' to everyone using the internet

    For values of "everyone" that are limited to broadband, yes.

    For people on the edge of a mesh network that is operational provided none of the twelve intermediate XO laptops are switched off en-route to the next-but-one village that has a single 9600bps dial-up... no.
  • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @01:22PM (#21131167) Journal
    More likely because a key factor in the Windows+Office+IE monopoly is its ubiquity. Remember: it's only a "de facto standard" or "industry standard" if, indeed, pretty much everyone and their grandma is inofficially accepting it as a standard, and when your program/format/whatever is subconsciously synonimous with the whole category.

    The way it works is like this: (very nearly) everyone uses product X (where X can be Excel, Word, whatever) with its proprietary format Y. At home, at work, etc. The effects are, in no particular order:

    1. That it's taken for granted that almost everyone already knows how to work with X, but you might need to train them to use the competitors' equivalent. This is a very big factor when corporations decide to standardize on something. And, at least subconsciously, it's then a factor in what people use at home. You've already used or seen X used at work, so there's no point in wasting your time learning something else instead.

    2. Because of 1, knowing how to use program X suddenly is a "skill" you might need at work. You know chances are overwhelming that, unless you're a linux admin or such, the PC at your next job will have X installed on it, and you'll be expected to know how to use it. It might even be an explicit requirement in the job ad. (Remember: training them is expensive, so you might as well hire those who already have the skills you want.)

    So the maths already becomes screwed up. If product X costs, say, 500$, it already paid for itself with interest if having that skill saves you even a month of looking for a new job. Or if it lets you move to a job that pays as little as 50$ a month more than your current one, it paid for itself in 10 months flat. "But some other equivalent is free" just lost a lot of appeal in that context.

    3. Because "everyone" has program X, thus they "all" can (and do) use its proprietary format Y. (See the recent linked story about even most OOo users saving in .doc or .xls format.) So it becomes the de-facto format of communication, and everyone is supposed to be able to read and write it flawlessly. If you're the guy who can't read format Y, you're as much an oddball as if you were the local luddite without a phone.

    And especially for a company, "we don't do Y files" is a big no-no. It doesn't take more than one contract lost with a big customer because you told him you don't want to install Word, to make a bigger loss than buying a retail copy of it for every computer.

    This is somewhat easier to get around, since nowadays OOo does a decent job of reading _most_ office files. But, still, the more it gets taken for granted, the more you're expected to be a 100% flawless emulation, down to the 65536 bug. And it gets pointed as a show-stopper if one guy's spreadsheet uses some obscure old function or macro that you don't emulate 100% accurately.

    4. Even more importantly, well, you can't have a monopoly on interchangeable separate pieces. That kind of a market can be attacked one product at a time. You want every product to depend on every other product. You want people to say, "yeah, Linux is nice, but does it run the latest version of Word?" and the like.

    But to cut this long rant shorter, again, it all boils down to ubiquity. It boils down to the next manager doing any purchasing thinking "naah, _everyone_ knows how to use Windows and Word, but we'd need to retrain everyone if we installed Linux and OOo."

    And in that aspect, raising a whole bloody generation of Indians and Chinese on Linux and OOo, is probably something that scares the seven shades of shit out of MS. It's the kind of thing that could lead to "nah, if we're offshoring there and/or importing workers from there anyway, we'd Linux and OOo are for free and we'd need to retrain them for Windows and MS Office." Or worse yet, to realizing, "hmm, everyone there uses ODF, don't they? I guess it would cost us more to force them to accept .xls files." It's that kind of things tha
  • by webmaster404 ( 1148909 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @01:44PM (#21131491)
    When people boot up the laptop they aren't going to see "Linux" they are going to see the GUI which happens to look very childish [] (as the target audience is children) but the typical computer user only sees the GUI and thinks how simple it is rather then using a "true operating system" such as XP, not to mention how people generally have no clue what Linux is or thinking of it solely as a server OS (I had one guy after I said that I used Linux ask me why I needed a server at home) and because Linux always seems to be "intigrated" into the hardware, most people don't know that its there, just as if you would ask someone who has a cell phone what operating system it was running they would shrug (Unless it was a Palm, Blackberry or iPhone) because people think of it as "just a phone" just like a TiVo is "just a video recorder" it is this that is hurting Linux adoption as people don't know what runs Linux, and when you show a typical American parent if you want a laptop running Linux (But all they see is a very simple GUI) or Windows which they know as an Operating system. And I bet that for the third world countries, they would just have Linux running and just download a copy of Windows to put on there.
  • The real reason (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheNarrator ( 200498 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @02:41PM (#21132345)
    If you can run Windows XP on the OLPC, adults will be able to use them. Especially if windows can debrick stolen OLPCs.

    This means that they can be stolen and resold, thereby destroying the program.
  • by davester666 ( 731373 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @03:39PM (#21133109) Journal
    It'll be XP Crippled, and only work on these wacky laptops, but there is going to be too many of these things being given to too many kids for MS to even consider letting Linux get that about of mindshare.

    And they aren't going to aim at Negroponte to pre-install this instead of Linux. They will aim at convincing the governments where these laptops will eventually be shipped to, to get the government to demand that MS's software be installed so they can interoperate with the government's newly installed MS server software.

    They can't let a generation of children, eager to learn to use computers to get a better life, learn how to use and program something other than Microsoft, and to know that the majority of computers around them can run something other than Microsoft software and run well.

    Just like heroin, the first hit is free, but you pay dearly for the rest of your life. And you life sucks once you take that hit.
  • by grcumb ( 781340 ) on Friday October 26, 2007 @10:55PM (#21136851) Homepage Journal

    Microsofts biggest fear is people will learn that computers don't have to be based on windows. Once that happens, they can't sell licenses to business and government, because the people won't only know windows so the businesses won't get it.

    I couldn't agree more. I've written a more extended assessment [] elsewhere, but it really comes down to this:

    Microsoft has no other ambition than blocking access to any other operating system. They want Windows everywhere, all the time. Their entire strategy is contingent on the ubiquity of the Windows platform. The XO laptop is one of the most significant threats to their hegemony, and for once they're forced to fight on someone else's turf. Having to eat crow and announce XP support for the XO laptop is a huge concession to make.

  • by bigmammoth ( 526309 ) on Saturday October 27, 2007 @04:53AM (#21138407) Homepage

    children growing up knowing Windows is actually a good thing for the children and the local economy
    How can ever-lasting dependence on foreign corporations be good for the children? Its simply in the interest of social structures (governments) to maximize the freedoms of the collective and minimize foreign dependencies that threaten to restrict the freedoms of the group.

    In the US for example we have huge foreign dependencies on oil. Other countries that don't have the largest military budget on the planet, can't just go kill people, occupy nations, and transform foreign economies on a whim to improve future geopolitical economic/energy positioning. would do good for poor countries to plan ahead and use linux. else their growth and prosperity is bounded by the platform provider. Hundreds of years of experience with colonial economics will inform these choices... (if the choices are made by "the majority" rather than the local collaborative oligarchs that have done quite well through colonialisms and present day 3rd world neo-liberal foreign ownership of all the key sectors of the economy).

    I don't know if its moral or not to maximize ones collective freedom, but it seems like a good idea.

"Let every man teach his son, teach his daughter, that labor is honorable." -- Robert G. Ingersoll