Microsoft, OLPC officially team up

One Laptop Per Child group says it will support both Windows and Linux on its XO laptops. Trials are set to begin next month.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
3 min read

So, I guess this makes it Two Operating Systems Per Child.

The One Laptop Per Child project and Microsoft announced Thursday that indeed the XO laptop will be available in both Linux and Windows varieties. The companies plan to sell a Windows-powered XO in five or six countries starting next month, with a broader release in August or September.

"We view it as a major opportunity for OLPC to expand and expand in a couple of ways," OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte told CNET News.com in an interview Thursday. "One is to have a broader acceptance in the community and the other is to have more software and software developers available."

"When I talk to people and tell them we can run Windows, they are very impressed. You pass a sort of virility test."
--Nicholas Negroponte, OLPC founder

Microsoft announced in December that it was working to see if it could get Windows XP up and running on the OLPC devices. To make it work, it needed to get the operating system to boot from an SD card and to create drivers to work with OLPC's unique features, such as its touchpad and e-book reader mode.

Negroponte said the ability to run Windows is a must-have in some countries. For example, he said, Uruguay made it a requirement in its recent solicitation. Even in other countries where Windows is not required, Negroponte said compatibility with the Microsoft operating system still helps give the laptop credibility.

"When I talk to people and tell them we can run Windows, they are very impressed," he said. "You pass a sort of virility test."

Microsoft and OLPC aren't saying which countries they will start selling the Windows-based XO model in first, although a press release quotes an official in Colombia, so I'd bet that will be one of the first.

Meanwhile, Negroponte stressed that he is not giving up on Linux and ultimately aims to deliver machines that can boot into either operating system.

"There's no premeditated plan that one is going to dominate over the other," he said. "Having both is a very powerful option."

Microsoft, meanwhile, said the first XO laptops with Windows that start rolling out in June will not be dual-boot machines. Microsoft executive James Utzschneider said the XO will help broaden the range of educational machines with Windows. Plus, he said, "There are just a lot of people that have fallen in love with that cute little laptop and they've said we want to see Windows on it."

For his part, Negroponte said starting out with Linux was essential. "For us to launch the laptop, we had no choice but to use open source," Negroponte said. "We needed the community. We needed to get (in) there at the OS level to build devices and drivers...to make our point, to make the laptop."

Negroponte is hoping the move to Windows won't cost OLPC the things that made its product unique. The company is aiming to port the XO's "Sugar" interface over to Windows.

"We are in discussion with several third parties," Negroponte said. "I suspect we will have some conclusion next week or the week after."

He added that the 50-person OLPC Foundation itself lacks the resources to tackle the software project. "Plus, we don't have the skill set," he said.

Microsoft and OLPC have both talked about the importance of getting laptops in the hands of children in developing countries, although they have not always talked in the fondest terms about one another's efforts.

"OLPC hasn't done that well," Chairman Bill Gates said in a January interview.

Meanwhile, speaking at a Linux conference in 2006, Negroponte said of working with Linux and AMD rather than Intel and Microsoft: "AMD is our partner, which means Intel is pissing on me. Bill Gates is not pleased either, but if I am annoying Microsoft and Intel then I figure I am doing something right."