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Ballmerized Nigerian PCs might run Mandriva after all

Despite $400,000 Microsoft whatchamacallit

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Those Nigerian PCs might run Mandriva after all.

Last week, Mandriva CEO François Bancilhon sent an open letter to his counterpart at Microsoft, claiming that Steve Ballmer had somehow convinced the Nigerian government to slap Windows on 17,000 machines already loaded with Mandriva Linux.

The Paris-based Linux-vendor had supplied the PCs, slated for use in Nigerian schools, and Banchilhon was informed of this mysterious about-face just as they were being delivered.

Well, IDG News Service is now reporting that the government agency funding 11,000 of these schoolroom PCs wants them running Mandriva. "We are sticking with that platform," said an unnamed official with Nigeria's Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF). But he also said that the agency reserves the right to use Windows sometime down the road.

Our efforts to contact the organization were not returned. But it was already quittin' time back in Africa.

According to IDG, the machines were being deployed by a government contractor known as Technology Support Center (TSC), a subsidiary of African tech consultant Alteq.ict, and it was TSC that decided to replace Mandriva with Windows.

How did Microsoft convince TSC to put Windows on the machines after the outfit had already paid good money to Mandriva for Linux? A Microsoft rep in Nigeria told IDG that TSC has "a preference for a tested platform." But the Intel Classmate PCs shipped by Mandriva have been certified for both Mandriva Linux and Windows XP (as well as Metasys Linux).

But he also said that Microsoft was in the midst of negotiating an additional agreement with TSC. Under the deal, Microsoft would give TSC $400,000 for "marketing activities" related to the machines - if they're converted to Windows.

When we asked Microsoft for an answer last week, the company assured us it had not broken any laws:

Microsoft strongly believes that individuals, governments and other organisations should be free to choose the software and other technologies that best meet their needs. We believe Microsoft offers the best overall option of value, integration, interoperability and support, without complexity or added dependency on services.

We are seeing strong market demand for Windows on low-cost devices to help governments in the areas of education, local innovation, and jobs and opportunity. We find that the government agencies are looking at the complete picture - bringing the benefits of technology to more people requires software, hardware, training, well-designed curricula, and stimulating sustainable local business ecosystems.

Microsoft has a strong relationship with the government in Nigeria and will continue to partner with government and industry to help meet their needs. Microsoft operates its business in accordance both with the laws of the countries in which it operates and with international law.

Whatever the case, François Bancilhon has urged the Nigerians to reverse their about face. "It’s still time to do the right thing and make the right choice," he wrote last week. "You will get lots of support for it and excellent services!" And he might get his way. Temporarily. ®

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