Linux, Microsoft, and the $3 desktop

t's relatively easy to defend Sun's decision to continue selling hardware while quietly killing their desktop Linux initiative as pragmatic -and even as in the American national interest- but justifying Gate's continued dalliance with the people supporting both North Korea and Iran is a lot harder.

As most of you know Mr. Gates went to China last week to announce a $3 license package. Here's the bullet as reported by cnet's Ina Fried:

 

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates is using a speech in Beijing to unveil a new low-cost bundle of Office and Windows, one of several new initiatives aimed at getting PCs into the hands of more people in emerging markets.

The software maker will offer the $3 Student Innovation Suite to governments that agree to directly purchase PCs for students to use in their schoolwork and at home. Gates plans to announce the program at a company-sponsored forum for government leaders.

The collection of software, which will start shipping in the second half of this year, includes Windows XP Starter Edition, Office Home and Student 2007, Windows Live Mail Desktop and several educational products. The $3 price includes the software license, while backup discs and documentation will cost extra. In order to be eligible, governments must pick up at least half the tab for the PC, though the software can also be used on refurbished computers, which can cost as little as $50, Microsoft said.

Microsoft is hoping this program and others will help the company reach more of the 5 billion people who have yet to benefit from the PC revolution.

This is primarily a response to the threat posed by the Gelernter inspired "Life Streams" interface on the heavily politized $100 laptop, but it should also remind you of two things - starting with this one, quoted here from the San Francisco Chronicle

 

Sun makes deal in China Linux desktop software to be used on 200 million computers, McNealy says

Matthew Yi, Chronicle Staff Writer

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

(11-18) 04:00 PDT Las Vegas -- In a deal that bodes ill for Microsoft's expansion in China, Sun Microsystems said Monday it has reached an agreement to install its Linux desktop software on more than 200 million computers in that country.

The announcement by Chief Executive Officer Scott McNealy, made during his keynote address at the Comdex technology trade show, drew gasps from the audience at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

"It makes us instantaneously the No. 1 Linux desktop player on the planet, " McNealy said. He would not say how much the deal is worth to the Santa Clara company.

As I heard the story, the Chinese were eager to accept the software source materials and learn from the experts Sun provided, but significantly less interested in meeting their financial and licensing obligations. Since Sun needed their hardware dollars (mostly for embedded and telco products) the end game on this saw Sun continue selling them physical product while minimizing free benefits to Beijing by "de-emphasizing" the Linux desktop work the communists felt licensed to steal.

And the second thing it should remind you of is something I wrote about in 2004:

 

First, recognise that Microsoft's software security depends crucially on keeping its source secret. That's not a comment from an anti-Microsoft bigot either, that's the testimony given under oath by Microsoft vice president Jim Alchin.

Even limited release of Microsoft's code, he told judge Kollar-Kotelly's federal court in May 2002, would threaten national security because it is both seriously flawed and widely used in the Defence Department.

Secondly, Microsoft announced, only nine months later (February, 2003) an agreement giving the communist Chinese full access to the source for Windows and related tools, thus lifting the veil of obscurity for this foreign power.

You don't negotiate any kind of agreement with the communist Chinese in a few days or weeks; it usually takes months or years to get even simple agreements approved - remember, theirs is a command economy in which nothing happens without government approval - and this particular agreement included a personal briefing given the chairman of the Chinese Communist Party by Bill Gates himself.

Think about that for a moment. Here we have a senior Microsoft vice president telling an American court that releasing the code to American companies would threaten national security at just about the same time some of his colleagues were negotiating a hand-over of that same code to the communist Chinese - the people who support North Korea, actively threaten both Taiwan and India, maintain the largest standing army in the world, and continue to publicise their idealogical commitment to the replacement of American democracy with a socialist dictatorship.

It's relatively easy to defend Sun's decision to continue selling hardware while quietly killing their desktop Linux initiative as pragmatic -and even as in the American national interest- but justifying Gate's continued dalliance with the people supporting both North Korea and Iran is a lot harder - and certainly not a task I'd want to take on.

 

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