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    Microsoft Demonstrates that Free Software is about Control of Our Own Future

    by Benjamin Melançon
    November 10, 2007

    This is a follow-up to Amanda Hickman’s post on open source free software games.

    Microsoft made tech news in the past week with reports that schools in Nigeria would use Windows XP rather than the Mandriva Linux on 17,000 computers ordered from Mandriva, a French GNU-Linux vendor. Public statements from Mandriva officials suggested foul play, but not many details were reported. Now, the Nigerian government has overruled the switch, Jeremy Kirk of IDG News Service reported, and his article published online yesterday by Computerworld UK has a lot more information on what actually happened.

    Nigeria’s Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), a government agency funding 11,000 of the Intel Classmate PCs, overruled the decision by a local company deploying the computers to wipe the hard disks and install Windows XP instead.

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    The company, Technology Support Center (TSC), stands to receive $400,000 from Microsoft for marketing activities around the Classmate PCs when the computers are converted to Windows, Microsoft’s country manager in Nigeria, Chinenye Mba-Uzoukwu.

    Nigeria may ultimately order more than 100,000 PCs for its schools so the stakes are high. Mandriva is providing a customised OS for Nigeria for under $10 per computer, including support, which is not a price Microsoft has demonstrated they accept as profitable enough. And with price out of the equation the USPF has indicated they want Linux for Nigeria’s schools.

    Microsoft could not make money on Windows licenses for these PCs and likely would not for any deployment of computers to Nigeria’s schools under these conditions. Clearly, that is not what this is about. The bribe to TSC underscores how far Microsoft will go to try to lock a new generation and the future of a developing country into its proprietary software.

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    As long as people are using a technology controlled by Microsoft, a control enforced by governments and police, Microsoft’s executives and stockholders can be confident that this control can be used to extract money from people.

    Nigeria is choosing a path of freedom from this control. Unlike Microsoft and Windows, Mandriva has no such law-bestowed power over the Linux they provide. To the contrary, any change they make and distribute legally has to be shared with everyone else.

    Everything a student learns about Windows and every program that is built for Windows are in a sense owned and controlled by Microsoft, because Microsoft decides what happens to Windows next (and what happens will usually involve your wallet).

    Everything a student learns about GNU-Linux, especially every program she makes or contributes to is both truly belongs to her and belongs to the whole world at the same time.

    This distinction is not limited to Windows versus GNU-Linux; it holds true for every proprietary versus free software choice.

    Nigeria has started on a path of building knowledge and technical resources that can’t be held hostage. We probably have not seen the end of what Microsoft will do to try to jump Nigeria’s claim on the future.

    This post is cross-blogged at the Agaric Design Collective blog.

    Related Content: Computerworld UK, which carried the Microsoft versus Linux story discussed above, has a good example of what I hope the Related Content module will help sites with. The entire “Now read” list of articles below the Mandriva article was offtopic, and must have been put together by computer or inattentive editors.

    “More of Computerworld UK’s in depth look at open source,” another way they listed related content, probably by topic categorization, and (immediately under the “Now read”) list had very much the kind of reference I hope reader-participants will make when enabled to do so by Related Content:
    Stallman: Are you ready to fight for freedom?

    Tagged: computers education free software freedom Linux microsoft
    • Related Content:

      Educator Jim Hutchinson on free software, Microsoft, and young people:

      I am fairly new to the world of OSS and cannot fully claim to understand all the nuances or philosophies.. However, I do understand the nature of education and of technological in education. I also understand human nature as well as the big software companies. Like the tobacco companies, Microsoft and others are very anxious to have young people use their software. They know that once people get comfortable they rarely switch. I think it is almost criminal that MS is willing to explore an extremely cheap version of its software for developing countries through such projects as the One Laptop Per Child effort. They have suggested that they would like to develop a $3 version of Windows for the OLPC PCs. Why? Because they know that if those children learn Linux instead they will almost certainly never become Windows users and consumers. I believe MS sells Office to school districts very cheaply for the same reason – market saturation and vendor lock-in. Education is our best weapon. Once people understand the nature of software and develop a level of comfort with Linux and OSS tools then the proprietary model will crumble like every empire in history.

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