Interview with Mandriva CEO, François Bancilhon

Interview with Mandriva CEO, François Bancilhon

Summary: I had the opportunity to speak Monday afternoon with the CEO of Mandriva, François Bancilhon. Recently, a deal with the Nigerian government to use and install Mandriva Linux on 17,000 Intel Classmate PCs was derailed when the government decided to overwrite the installed operating system with Windows XP.


François BancilhonI had the opportunity to speak Monday afternoon with the CEO of Mandriva, François Bancilhon. Recently, a deal with the Nigerian government to use and install Mandriva Linux on 17,000 Intel Classmate PCs was derailed when the government decided to overwrite the installed operating system with Windows XP. Mr. Bancilhon wrote about this issue in a highly publicized "Open Letter to Steve Ballmer." I wanted to follow up with him and get his take both on this deal and on larger issues related to the adoption of open source software in emerging markets.

Since our conversation was fairly informal (and over the phone), I'll summarize the key points, as well as his answers to my questions.

What happened? I asked Mr. Bancilhon to comment as directly as he could about happened behind the scenes to cause such an about-face from the Nigerian government. While, as he noted, Mandriva are still gathering facts themselves about a situation that seems even more complex than it looked in the beginning, he was able to give a sense of the process. Most importantly, the process was competitive; Microsoft was part of this competition to place a particular software platform on the Classmate PCs to be deployed in Nigeria. He explained that it was a truly "global deal," with engineering done in Brazil, final production of the machines in Taiwan, and customers taking delivery in Nigeria. Not surprisingly, the process was both lengthy and complicated.

However, in the end, as is the model for most of the Classmate deployments, the software vendor/partner was chosen by the customer (in this case, Mandriva) and OEMs were provided with the operating system. The local OEMs had actually started loading the software and shipping the laptops with Mandriva installed. Within an hour of a call with Mandriva's Nigerian partners discussing the status of the shipments and the deal itself, Mr. Bancilhon was informed that the Nigerian government would honor the agreement with Mandriva, but would replace the software on all of the laptops with Windows XP and Office 2003. The exact motivation for this switch remains unclear. Mr. Bancilhon believes that there is still some hope for a resolution favorable to Mandriva; we will have to wait and see.

Ultimately, when I asked him what he thought the final outcome of the Nigerian deal would be, it was clear that the real problem was not the choice of operating system. As he noted, Windows is simply one other choice. The more important issue was that the Nigerian customers (and other customers in similar situations with whom they have partnered around the world) really valued the ability to be part of the localization efforts for the software and, in fact, to generate local jobs. Microsoft does not offer the ability to customize at this level for a "local market and involve local people in terms of content."

The future of open source (vs. Microsoft) As has been noted in this blog and many others, established markets are largely saturated. Mr. Bancilhon explained that the "next billion computers will go to emerging markets and will be low cost." The true opportunity for Linux, he noted, will be in emerging markets where the openness and customizability of the software for local markets has the most value. He felt that the Nigerian deal was particularly important because it could have been a model for other similar situations, which are remarkably widespread in developing countries.

Kids should learn Windows anyway I asked Mr. Bancilhon specifically how he addresses OSS detractors, many of whom say that kids should be using Windows anyway to prepare for what they are likely to see in the "real world". His answer surprised me, but actually made a lot of sense. He reminded me that there are currently 8000 languages spoken on Earth. If, as predicted, by the end of the century, 6000 of these will disappear, there will still be 2000 languages spoken worldwide; Windows is currently available in about 50 languages. The solution, therefore, as he sees it, is not to have 1 software manufacturer, but to offer open solutions so that local people can be involved and do their own localizations and distribution. His final statement on the matter reads like a company slogan, but certainly isn't a bad banner behind which OSS supporters can stand. His solution is to "replace monopoly with choice."

When I asked him about the future of OSS in developing markets and potential segmentation (e.g., education vs. private sector), he reiterated that the value of Linux is in its suitability for extensive local customization. Different segments of each market obviously have different needs, which can be met by local partners. As he noted, the right way to enter this market is through education. "People are smart enough to move from one system to another," he said. Clearly, whatever platform they start on, appropriate education should allow them to be effective users of technology. He drew a parallel to learning multiple languages and the advantage that offers for students.

Tax incentives open doors Finally, I asked Mr. Bancilhon if it was time for government regulation in this matter. He pointed out that the most effective government intervention so far has been in the form of tax incentives, rather than anything heavy-handed. In Brazil, for example, tax incentives for companies to "break the Digital Divide" have resulted in the shipment of 30,000 to 50,000 Linux-based computers a month.

Talk back below and let us know what you think about software choices in emerging markets, as well as in established markets. Keep in mind that the kids we are educating now in these "established markets" will be business partners of the Nigerian (and Brazillian, and Libyan, and Chinese, and...) school children using Classmates today.

Topics: Operating Systems, CXO, Government, Government US, Linux, Open Source, Software, IT Employment, Windows

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • Nothing new here.

    I thought there would be an answer to why he wrote the letter, all I hear is that they were beaten in the market and everyone not on the open source band wagon is wrong.

    In other words, "sour grapes".
    • So this doesn't seem the least bit fishy to you, No_Ax?!!???

      I'm assuming that you're reasonably intelligent. A bid was put out and vendors competed for the deal for a hardware/software deal. Microsoft and Mandriva both competed on what was assumed to be a level playing field. The customer chose Mandriva's solution (Linux on ___). The deal was set and price agreed to.

      Then, after the order has been placed and is in the process of being filled, the customer notifies Mandriva that they will honor the agreement but will replace the included Linux software with Windows and MS Office. Now, remember, they are paying the agreed to price. Mandriva is still being paid the same amount of money here. So no loss of profit to Mandriva.

      Didn't you once ask what would make a customer pay extra to put Windows and MS Office on a computer after deciding that the Linux OS/software was the better choice? Assume for a moment that they didn't change their mind. What then could have prompted this change of plan. Even if MS offered to put Windows and Office on the machine for free, the customer already decided that the Linux solution better met their needs. The only reason I can come up with is that MS didn't just offer the software for free, but sweetened the pot with ... (cash, future free software, services, additional hardware, etc.). I don't know what it was but if I was a customer and decided on a vendor to provide hardware and software at what I considered a good price, the competing vendor would not be able to change that decision without making it worth my while. ESPECIALLY if I'm sticking to my original agreement and paying the agreed to price with the winning vendor!!!

      So, the problem here is that Microsoft SEEMS (notice the word "SEEMS"?) to be changing the rules and playing dirty here. If there is any truth to this scenario, then this is indeed unfair and is NOT competitive behavior. They are, in effect, dumping software or services or some other incentive into the market (OK, into the deal here) to gain an unfair advantage. Since this deal could have been a catalyst for other customers to make similar deals, this was important enough to Microsoft to somehow change the rules and cheat.

      If you don't see the possible problem here, then no amount of discussion or debate will change your mind. If this is so, I'm sorry to have wasted your time and mine.

      For the rest of us, I suggest that you continue to urge your decision makers to at least consider other vendors (OSS or closed source) when IT purchases are being considered. I don't believe that Microsoft makes bad products. I just believe that they should not be the automatic choice and I also believe that we need to preserve choice and competition in the market. There are plenty of products in the market that are just as good and sometimes better than the Microsoft product. Let's use them and vote with our wallets to keep competition alive and choice available to the IT market.

      And, No_Ax, I wish you well. Sincerely.
      • Or another scenario might be that they wanted the

        MS solution all along but were using Mandriva to help them Cut/Negotiate/Extort (Your Choice) the best deal they possibly can from MS. Theres Two sides to every story and as long as you only know one you will never know the total Truth. Now that I have said that it would not surprise me to find out that MS outright bribed the ministry of education for Nigeria to get the deal. But I'm not going to Assume that Just because it's MS!
        By the way I use both Linux (SuSe 10.3) and XP Dual Boot. I downloaded the PCLinuxOS ISO last night and plan on installing it later this afternoon to see if it's as good as I was told it was. I hope it is!! Then I can Dual Boot my kids computer so that they have choice too!!
      • Being serious, so what?

        "The only reason I can come up with is that MS didn't just offer the software for free, but sweetened the pot with ..."

        I see nothing wrong in that. Example: I am putting on a conference in January, one task I must do is select site. As it is out of state I arranged to meet with several hotels and in fact stay at a few to see what they had to offer. One was cheaper than the rest and I talked with them and had a tentative deal. However, I visited another where they picked up my costs for staying, they picked up all my food costs, rented me a car, and "sweatened" the deal for costs with the conference. End result, I backed out on the tentative deal I had made earlier.

        You see, like it or not, that is called business. What we see in this case is that the distro had very little to offer beyond a good price for their limited software (limited in offerings, not quality). Microsoft on the other hand has a very broad offering and can do things the competition could not. Maybe its traning, maybe its schooling, maybe its additional hardware, who knows? But yes, I agree, Microsoft obviously offered something the competition could not and won out.

        Where your problem (and that of most open source people) lays is that you want to define what you call a "level playing field" when clearly that is not how business and deals are made. By that I mean, all you want anyone to consider is the software and nothing else. Sorry but that just isn't the real world. Never has been, never will be. People take what they percieve to be the "best" all around deal.
        • However..

          You hadn't finalized a contract with the first hotel. So that is not the same as what is happening here.

          Granted, since they are honoring the contract I don't really have a problem with this. I am curious as to what actually transpired, but I am sure we will never know the whole truth.

          I am curious about one thing. Did the second hotel sweeten the deal for you at the expense of the attendees?
          Patrick Jones
          • Attendies don't really matter

            Yeah I know, you think that attitude is "just wrong" but as they are not putting on the conference nor paying all the costs, it isn't their choice. Of course they do have the choice to decide if they percieve it to be a value and attend or not.

            With that said, no, it did not raise their costs.

            As you clearly indicate, Nigeria didn't back out on their arrangements or payments, they simply went with what they thought was a better all around deal. The Linux distro has no reason in the world to be upset or crying like they have been. All they seem to be crying about is that Linux was replaced and that has more to do with the Linux religion and zealotry than anything else.
          • Not completely true..

            <i>All they seem to be crying about is that Linux was replaced and that has more to do with the Linux religion and zealotry than anything else.</i>
            As the poster below stated, this is about future business. If it wasn't, why would Microsoft care about 17,000 laptops?
            Patrick Jones
          • Oh I agree with that part.

            Obviously it was important to both camps. Both kept upping the offer, one of them won out in the end. Shrug...
        • Your Anology is Flawed

          This is not shopping - this is more like a contract. A better analogy would be that you provide conference sites. You sign a contract with a government through a tender process. You win; but suddenly the government client say they will still pay you, but will now hold their conference in your rivals conference facility (and presumably pay more money).

          Yes, you may get paid; but you are aware that once the people start using your rival's facility then future orders will be to that facility. Somehow, in the tender process that you won you have been usurped by your rival, who now has a future lock in.

          If this were to happen in the US there would, no doubt, be questions - of both the government officials who had changed the tender and the company who had now, somehow, beat your own. Only a simpleton would not suspect there had been, to some extend, graft and corruption in the process.

          So when you say "Sorry but that just isn't the real world.Never has been, never will be." are you suggesting that graft and corruption are acceptable in business - that the results justifies the means? That money makes anything moral? Reading your reply, particularly the last paragraph, that is the only conclusion I can come to.
          • Typo - Meant Analogy - not Anology

            Damn fat fingers
          • Your conclusion is wrong.

            "Yes, you may get paid; but you are aware that once the people start using your rival's facility then future orders will be to that facility.?

            Yes, that is 100% true and is one reason a competitor would sweaten the offerings.

            "been usurped by your rival, who now has a future lock in."

            Trust me, you can bet your bottom dollar the Linux distro was praying for the same thing. Both companies understood the value of being "first". One had to lose, one did lose, this time it was the Linux distro. (If you can call being paid for software that won't be used losing.)

            Hmmm, a better analogy. Have you ever heard of someone buying a home, making an earnest payment on it, then finding a home they liked better and backing out on the first home even though they would lose their earnest money? It happens everyday. Does it upset the first home owner that they didn't sell the house? Maybe, but they also have the earnest money in hand and are quite willing to bank it. (By the way, that's what earnest money is all about in home buying.)

            The truth is, people back out of agreements everyday, all day and it usually carries some form of penalty points. In this case it was to pay the distro, in the case of a home buyer its the earnest money. Either way, the person spending the dollars "percieved" a better deal, and was willing to accept the penalty points. (Paying the distro.)

            Sorry but there is nothing illegal, underhanded, or "evil" in any of it. It's just human beings making what they believe to be the best possible deal. That will never change. (Even courts understand this and allow a home buyer to walk away and lose the earnest money.)
          • YOU are wrong

            When you sign a contract, you can't just turn around and walk away. You're saying that if you were under contract, you'd just walk away if someone offered you a better deal, regardless? That's how you end up in prison.
        • Just say no to third world intellectual capital

          The problem with letting Nigerians have an Open Source solution is that they'll have access to numerous programming languages, source code and documentation, bringing a real danger that some might end up being proficient programmers or system admins. It could also lead to a perception that computing is more than just Windows, possibly fueling dissatisfied with binary only blobs, pricey branded boxes, license restrictions, system instability etc.

          Left to fester, there's also the risk that continued adoption of Open Source in these countries will affect future revenue streams of software sales to the poor.

          I don't want to portray a doomsday scenario, but left unchecked it could be that at the end of the news one night, during the markets summary, they'll have to show a smaller number for a particular software company. These things don't happen in isolation, because that'll clearly have a knock on effect on the sales of Champagne and Cuban cigars.

          Must go now, it's peak time to rob the local beggars while they search for firewood.
          • Ok

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      • FISHY? This smells worse than the fulton fish market on a steamy august day

    • Well...

      Seeing as the computers in question come in two version, one with XP and the other with Mandriva, it is perfectly valid to say "Huh? What happened?" After all, if they really wanted Windows then why not buy the XP version? It stands to reason buying preloaded XP should be cheaper in time and money than having to reformat and load XP after purchase. See

      Expecting you to think a bit is similar to expecting a G-Wiz to give out 750 effective BHP.
      • So what?

        " After all, if they really wanted Windows then why not buy the XP version?"

        Simple, they didn't think it was the best deal until MS upped the offer. That is called bargaining and it happens everyday, all day. The only problem I see here is that the distro is whining that they couldn't match the offer. Shrug...
        • I guess you don't care

          If a government wastes money like that then. On that basis I suggest you lobby the (US? You are American?) government to systematically waste money by buying the original Hummers for all government employees and then lobby them to convert them all to hybrids and/or alternative fuels.
          • There is no waste

            Where do you come up with waste? You have no idea what Microsoft offered that offset the cost of Linux.

            As to the rest of the post, has nothing to do with the topic at hand.
          • And your car fills itself up without any cost as well

            Are you saying that Microsoft is giving away XP? If so, please tell ERS as fast as your little legs can carry you to him. Either that, or let the world know what this "special deal" is so the rest of the world can take advantage of it.