XP on OLPC: Microsoft's gambit to stay in the emerging market conversation

Windows XP may come to the One Laptop Per Child project as Microsoft ports its operating system to flash-based devices such as Intel's Classmate PC, ASUS Eee PC and the XO laptop. But Microsoft's big motive is to stay relevant in emerging markets where officials are increasingly mulling over Linux-based devices.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor on

Windows XP may come to the One Laptop Per Child project as Microsoft ports its operating system to flash-ba

sed devices such as Intel's Classmate PC, ASUS Eee PC and the XO laptop. But Microsoft's big motive is to stay relevant in emerging markets where officials are increasingly mulling over Linux-based devices.

There's no reason to bash Microsoft's Unlimited Potential program, which aims to bring technology "to
the next 5 billion people." However, it's really difficult not to read between the lines on this XP meets OLPC development.

Let's weigh the different factors based on Microsoft's official statement, its comments about porting XP and coverage from Mary Jo Foley, Ina Fried and Techmeme chatter.

Exhibit A:

From Microsoft's statement:

"Microsoft plans to publish formal design guidelines early next year that will assist flash-based device manufacturers in designing machines that enable a high-quality Windows experience. In addition, there will be limited field trials in January 2008 of Windows XP for One Laptop per Child’s XO laptop. Microsoft’s goal is to provide a high-quality Windows experience on the XO device; if this is achieved, then Windows XP for the XO could be available as early as the second half of 2008."

What Microsoft is really saying: Memo to emerging markets: Put Windows on the radar if you are mulling over the purchase of a Linux based device. At least Microsoft isn't shy about it: "Governments evaluating purchases of the XO should continue to consult with Microsoft regarding possible Windows XP availability date, pricing and support policies." This statement gets at what the Mandriva CEO was whining about in November. Microsoft's message: Wait for us. Don't do anything drastic--like use Linux.

Exhibit B:

From Microsoft's blog post where it outlines some of the difficulties porting XP to a flash based device:

"We have not announced formal plans to support the XO yet, and we will not do so until after we start getting feedback from our first limited field trials starting in January before we make the final call. We do not want to set expectations we subsequently cannot meet, especially when it comes to supporting the children’s machine. For governments in emerging markets evaluating purchases of Windows for the XO, this means that so far we are not announcing an availability date, pricing, or support policies. In fact, you should not yet assume that Windows on the XO is a done deal. We are hopeful that we will have a different story for you within six months."

What Microsoft is really saying: Again, no rush folks. You can hold off that Linux love affair for six months right. Another thread: Nicholas Negroponte jumped the gun with his XP on the XO riff.



Exhibit C:

From Microsoft's blog post:

"If you are in the US and Canada and are participating in the “Give One Get One” program, you need to understand that Microsoft is not currently planning to support a retail consumer release of Windows XP on your XO computer."

What Microsoft is really saying: Do you really think that we would kill demand for Vista and other laptops by selling a inexpensive XP computer?


Exhibit D:

From the blog post:

"The XO computer uses flash memory instead of a hard disk drive for storage. This is one of the reasons OLPC can get the production cost of the computer down to $188. This is a relatively new class of machine, and we have to do design work to get Windows and Office to work reliably and with good performance using only 2 GB of storage. The XO actually only comes with 1GB of flash, and we asked the OLPC to add a slot for an internal SD card that will provide the 2 GB of extra memory needed to run our software. (By comparison, an entry level $499 Dell laptop comes with 60 GB of hard disk storage.) The potential payoff for students and schools from this work, of course, is that the tens of thousands of existing educational applications written for Windows can potentially run on the XO."

What Microsoft is really saying: We are dangling the big payoff--a ton of educational programs--if you'll wait a bit. However, we need to go on a serious diet (that's what New Year's resolutions are for) and want to complicate things with an SD card slot. And we'll be swell and give away XP to get the price down.

Exhibit E:

From the blog post:

"Microsoft plans to publish some formal design guidelines early next year that will help Flash PC manufacturers benefit from our early work so they can design machines that enable a great Windows experience at as low a cost as possible, and with a minimum of custom design work necessary to get Windows to run on their machines, such as we have encountered with the XO."

What Microsoft is really saying: We have a runaway train with these flash devices. If these toys ever get serious traction Windows could face a shutout.

Exhibit F:

From the blog post:

"We have a different support model than OLPC is envisioning: we are not expecting K-6 school children to access the source code and do their own programming in the event they have to fix a problem in the computer. Certainly, we think there is a role for students in the support of school computers -- in fact, as part of our Partners in Learning program we have trained over a million kids in a student helpdesk program (like in this case study from Brazil) -- but we also think that local entrepreneurs and businesses need to play an important role here when you are talking about deployments involving tens of thousands of computers."

What Microsoft is really saying: And if these entrepreneurs and business play a support role they can also sell more Microsoft products in the future.


Exhibit G:

From the blog post:

"Finally, we are doing this engineering work for a moving target. It is literally like designing parts of a car – well, actually a school bus -- while it is running down the highway at a high speed. I am not meaning this as a knock on the OLPC organization, because they are a small group of people doing an amazing amount of innovative design work in a short period of time. But we have only received a handful of machines for most of the last year, and the XO team was doing some hardware design changes as recently as this past August. This affects our schedule.

Much of the technology in the XO is developed using open source technology licenses that make it difficult for engineers employed by commercial software companies like Microsoft to work directly on the project. For this reason, we also had to follow a complicated process to figure out interfaces for many of the XO’s hardware components and to deal with some of the hardware bugs they were reporting in their design process in order to make progress on our port. All of this slows us down, but that’s OK given our overall shared mission here."

What Microsoft is really saying: Ha! Think those open source folks bought that one? But we aren't knocking the OLPC project. Why pick on them when it's really the open source folks that are batty. Those damn licenses are a pain. But that's OK. Really, it is. What? Why are you glaring at me? It's really OK. Microsoft loves open source. Shared mission and all. Right?!?

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