Microsoft can't afford to have open source software dominate emerging markets--or it's growth is toast. The solution: $3 Windows for governments to give away.
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates outlining a plan to provide low-costs bundles of Office and Windows to governments, who in theory would load these on PCs for students to use.
Ina Fried reports the details (Techmeme discussion, Microsoft statement):
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.
Now I hate to be a cynic on a worthwhile cause, but there's also this little thing called the One Laptop Per Child initiative with the same goal (gallery right). The rub: OLPC is putting Linux software in the hands of students in emerging markets.
If OLPC does nothing else it may create a great open source farm team. Jeremy Allison also argues that OLPC will change the computing landscape. And if emerging markets favor open source software Microsoft has some serious issues in the future. David Berlind noted last month that OLPC could be a Microsoft threat.
That threat is at least part of the reason why Microsoft is targeting the next billion PC users. You can't blame them. And a $3 Windows and Office bundle is competitive with open source offerings.
Add it up and it's thumbs up to Microsoft for the effort--but don't forget the business strategy at play either. If the developing world goes open source Microsoft's business slowly erodes.