PC diplomacy

May 3, 2007

Last week the head of the One Laptop Per Child project told a group of analysts and reporters that the $176 computers it is developing for millions of poor kids can run on the Windows operating system.

That was surprising to hear from the mouth of OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte, a vocal Microsoft critic. The laptops are designed to run on the open-source Linux operating system (thanks to much technical assistance and financial aid from software vendor Red Hat Inc.)

He quickly qualified his remark, saying that he had never actually seen Windows running on one of his machines (which are scheduled to go into production in China in September, then be distributed to poor children around the globe).  Microsoft had asked him for a couple of the prototypes of the device, dubbed the XO laptop, and he had complied.

Reuters asked Microsoft what’s going on with the laptops. Here’s the e-mail response from Will Poole, corporate vice president of the software maker’s market expansion group:

We have been engaged in dialog with Nicholas Negroponte and his team regarding the plans for OLPC for some time.  As part of our ongoing discussions, OLPC has provided us with a number of beta XOs.  With those in hand, we currently are in the process of evaluating the feasibility of running Windows on the XO device. 

While we are pleased with the progress to date, we still have significant work ahead to finalize our analysis and testing processes. 

Microsoft’s cooperation hasn’t been welcomed by everybody involved in the One Laptop project. It’s not hard to forget that the world’s biggest software maker is still viewed as the evil empire by much of the open source community.

Red Hat’s Christopher Blizzard, a chief architect of the XO laptop, weighed in on Microsoft’s involvement on his blog on Thursday afternoon:

The relationship can be explained thusly: Microsoft has some XO machines. They are trying to get Windows working on it. Sometimes they show up and ask random hardware questions. The OLPC guys say look at the code. They go away again.

Sometimes they brick machines (because they have to replace the awesome firmware we have with a poopy PC BIOS) and send them back to the office to get them unbricked. Sometimes they complain that the machine has hardware problems and we reply that it works fine here.

For once Microsoft is getting the reverse Linux laptop experience: little support and little documentation for the hardware. The result will be a platform that doesnt include any of the really novel features that were building in, bad power management, no systems management via the firmware and apps that will randomly crash because they cant fix the virtual memory problem in the same way were approaching it. A second class citizen, to be sure.


It is an interesting time to see, how Steve Ballmer and team will sustain windows supremacy. Despite vista’s moderate success, Microsoft knows future could be bumpy as Dell decided to finish Microsoft dominance on its PC(s). However, $3 window’s version and XO might install windows are indicating MS is determined to ahead in the race.