Why is Microsoft underpowering One Laptop Per Child?

Microsoft is trying to cut the emerging ultra-portable market off at the knees to keep it from using Linux. This is abusive on Microsoft's part, but shameful on One Laptop Per Child's.

Boingboing is reporting that Microsoft is forcing OEMs into using artificially low hardware specifications. Even if you erroneously believe that OLPC is simply a matter of price tag, Microsoft's actions are puzzling, to say the least. Well, as long as you imagine that Microsoft is in it for the kids.

As Cory Doctorow notes:

Microsoft is trying to distort the market for cheap, tiny laptops by setting up artificial incentives to manufacturers to limit the power and capability of their lowest-cost units -- even if a vendor can figure out how to put more storage, a bigger screen, or a touchscreen into its machines, Microsoft doesn't want it there, and they'll punish any vendor that tries by refusing to license XP Home Edition on the same preferential terms that lower-spec machines get.

Why would Microsoft do this? More pertinently, why would OLPC sell out its ideals? IDG News Service suggests that Microsoft is trying to prevent cannibalization of its mainstream desktop market. That is an understandable goal, but not necessarily a laudable one given Microsoft's alleged intention to play fair with OLPC. I suspect something more is involved here.

What's the real goal? Eradication of Linux in a market where Microsoft is vulnerable:

By offering Windows XP Home Edition at bargain prices, Microsoft hopes to secure its place in the ULPC market and reduce the use of Linux, according to an official at one PC maker, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to discuss the program.

And certainly not in that way.

Linux is a natural fit for this emerging market. Microsoft, understandably, wants to cut Linux off at the knees. It's just unfortunate that Negroponte has capitulated: OLPC used to talk about freedom, then it tried to pretend it was simply about price...and now it's no longer even about price.

Who would have thought that the same organization that said this...

The Laptop will bring children technology as means to freedom and empowerment. The success of the project in the face of overwhelming global diversity will only be possible by embracing openness and by providing the laptop's users and developers a profound level of freedom.

...Could be the same one to cozy up to Redmond, when Microsoft clearly doesn't have the project's best interests at heart?

It's about giving kids the crappiest spec that Microsoft's market share can afford. That is shameful.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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