Microsoft’s agreement to offer Windows XP on OLPC’s XO laptop is appropriate and long overdue.
It was pure hypocrasy for Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates to publicly decry the so-called “Digital Divide” while privately refusing to support the XO simply because Linux was a supported operating system.
The Gates Foundation has no doubt contributed a great deal to nations in need, particularly on the health care front. But Microsoft’s dismissal of the OLPC initiative – when it still owns more than 90 percent share of the PC desktop – was foolish if not paranoid.
At the same time, it was equally disturbing to see the friction that occurred within the OLPC Foundation over Microsoft’s possible involvement, particularly the resignation of “Sugar” operating system developer and OLPC President and director of development Walter Bender.
The controversy that has erupted over this issue is absurd. The battle over the future desktop operating system, a religious war in and of itself, should not be fought on the backs of poor, innocent children. The intent of the One Laptop Per Child initiative is to ensure adequate access to PC technology to future generations whose chances at success – if not survival -- are shaky at best.
Following confirmation of the deal yesterday in the New York Times, Microsoft’s emerging markets team indicated that a version of the Windows XP OS would be available on the XP laptops in select and unnamed nations beginning in September. Good. It will cost an additional $3 for the privilege of Windows XP but that’s the best deal I’ve ever heard of, Egghead.com or not.
Since the OLPC Foundation first approached Mr. Gates three years ago, Linux has become far more mainstream (on the server) and Microsoft’s iron grip policies have relaxed. Besides, the laptop is now available and Windows XP -- and Gates -- are nearing their end at Microsoft. If Gates' XO decision is part of his Swan Song out of corporate life, it is an equally beneficial move for him in light of his imminent transition to full-time philanthropy at the Gates Foundation.
The XO’s incumbent operating system, the open source “Sugar” Linux OS, will also continue to be an option – or so we’re told. If customers want to run both operating systems, it’ll cost $7 for the hardware needed, the New York Times reports. Choice is good for governments, for the children and for the industry. But the onus is on the OLPC Foundation to continue to support Linux as an option if it indeed intends to remain "pure" and ought to work with the Linux experts who know XO the best -- the Sugar developers. With the egos soothed, let the education begin.
Now if we can just get XO laptops to poor kids in the U.S ....