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Negroponte: Windows key to OLPC philosophy

After publically mocking Intel and Microsoft, OLPC chairman Nicholas Negroponte has said the scheme could not promote openness if it blocked Windows

While the news that Microsoft is developing a version of Windows for the so-called "$100 laptop" has caused some consternation, the head of the One Laptop per Child project has said the scheme could not promote openness if it blocked Windows.

Microsoft corporate vice president Will Poole told Reuters last week that the software giant is working on a stripped-down version of Windows XP to run on the ruggedised laptops destined for schoolchildren in developing countries. According to Poole, the OS could be ready in a "few months".

The educational XO laptop has been built using free and open-source software — part of the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project's drive to allow XO's young users to modify the laptop's software as they see fit.

The OLPC's philosophy of openness is behind its decision to allow Microsoft software on the machines, according to chairman Nicholas Negroponte.

"It would be hard for OLPC to say it was 'open' and then be closed to Microsoft. Open means open," Negroponte said.

According to Negroponte, the XP announcement is the latest development in a long-running collaboration between the project and Microsoft.

"Microsoft has always been working on Windows for the XO. We put the SD slot into our laptop over one year ago, for them," Negroponte said, explaining that the SD slot allows the XO's memory to be expanded, making it easier for users to run Windows.

"[Windows on XO] has not only been happening with our consent, but [also our] collaboration. Some of the first engineering models from any given build go to them," Negroponte said.

Negroponte's latest comments may anger some elements of the open-source community — an audience that he has courted extensively in his publicity drive for the XO. Speaking at Linux specialist Red Hat's annual user event in 2006, Negroponte seemed to triumph in having excluded Microsoft and Intel from the OLPC project.

"AMD is our partner, which means Intel is pissing on me. Bill Gates is not pleased either but, if I am annoying Microsoft and Intel, then I figure I am doing something right," Negroponte said to an audience of open-source enthusiasts in Nashville.

Negroponte added that the project required an extremely scaled-down operating system to enable the laptops to run at a decent speed while using very little power. "About 25 percent of the cost of a laptop is there just to support XP, which is like a person that has gotten so fat that they use most of their muscle to move their fat," he said.

Despite Microsoft's involvement, OLPC remains principally an open-source project, according to Negroponte. The machines come with an operating system which uses elements of Red Hat's Fedora Core 6 and includes a browser built on XULRunner, the runtime environment used by Firefox.

Orders for around three million of the machines are thought to have been received to date.

ZDNet.co.uk's Andrew Donoghue contributed to this report.