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Will Microsoft kill Linux on ULPCs?

Obviously, Microsoft has a significant interest in making sure that users of the new breed of netbooks and MIDs hitting the market don't get too comfortable using Linux. Many manufacturers have taken to installing various flavors of Linux on these devices to minimize footprint, improve performance, and reduce costs on low-power, low-margin hardware.
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Written by Christopher Dawson on

Obviously, Microsoft has a significant interest in making sure that users of the new breed of netbooks and MIDs hitting the market don't get too comfortable using Linux. Many manufacturers have taken to installing various flavors of Linux on these devices to minimize footprint, improve performance, and reduce costs on low-power, low-margin hardware. Similarly, most modern Linux distributions provide features that are tough to find on Windows XP (especially XP Home); Vista clearly isn't an option on these little guys.

ULPCs come up a lot in Ed Tech, partly because the OLPC XO, largely credited with creating this market, is an educational tool and also because ULPCs have the potential to make 1:1 computing realistic (or even to simply make any sort of computing realistic in developing markets). The OS of choice for students today will be the OS of choice in business tomorrow; hence, Microsoft's concern over the use of Linux.

ComputerworldUK just ran a feature on Microsoft's latest push to keep Windows XP Home on ULPCs rather than Linux. According to the article,

Microsoft says PC makers are keen to enter the market but want to keep ULPCs as a distinct category from "value" and mainstream PCs. The company's new program, scheduled to launch by the end of June, is designed to help make that happen.

Microsoft plans to charge PC makers US$26 (£13) for Windows XP Home Edition for ULPCs sold in emerging markets such as China and India, and $32(£16) for those sold in developed markets...PC makers who are eligible for its Market Development Agreement, however, can get a discount of as much as $10 off those prices...

Suddenly, the cost differential between Windows and its open-source alternatives is small enough that ULPC makers can offer Windows on their machines for nearly the same cost as Linux. Those hesitant to adopt newer and arguably less vulnerable Linux operating systems because of their unfamiliarity now have an easy out; many will jump at XP Home, even though it lacks the business features of XP Pro or the security of Vista or Linux (without third-party anti-malware software).

As we know, change is hard. Given the choice, without incentives in either direction (price, in this case), most people will stick with what they know. This certainly includes many people involved with Ed Tech and often involves politicians and government officials in developing markets, rather than developers who can speak to the pros and cons of both platforms. Nicholas Negroponte believes that he could have sold his XOs to Egypt, for example, if they ran Windows. Negroponte believes a lot of things, but he's certainly right in his perception of pro-Windows bias, whether this bias is well-founded or not.

So can Microsoft kill Linux in this market, a market in which open source has clearly found a niche in which in can compete quite well?

Take the poll and talk back below. [poll id=58]

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