OLPC, Microsoft working on dual-boot XO laptop

A forthcoming version of the OLPC's XO laptop could have the ability to boot both Linux and Windows, according to the OLPC's founder.

Tech Industry

Apparently Nick Negroponte is willing to work with some huge powerful corporations whose interests compete with his own.

Negroponte told IDG News Service Wednesday that the OLPC project is working with Microsoft on a version of the XO laptop that would be capable of booting either Linux--the current OS--or Windows. It appears the two organizations are shooting for something like Apple's Boot Camp: not true virtualization, but the ability to boot either operating system depending on the applications you'd need to run.

Nigerian students check out their XO laptops, which might soon run Windows and Linux. Khaled Hassounah

This could help the OLPC address some of the reasons why a few governments have spurned its XO laptop in favor of Intel's Classmate, which runs either Linux or Windows, but not in dual-boot fashion. While the XO's design is certainly innovative compared to many of the other options out there, the support model is not. XO customers are essentially responsible for supporting the product themselves, and some governments haven't wanted to snap up an unproven technology product with the additional support burden.

Microsoft and the OLPC have been talking for months about getting Windows to run on the XO laptop, but until now the discussion had appeared to indicate that project would result in two different XOs, a Linux one and a Windows one. A dual-boot XO is an entirely different prospect altogether, one that might require additional processing power, storage, memory, or all three.

The news comes less than a week after the bitter divorce between the OLPC and Intel over Intel's Classmate PC. The OLPC wants Intel to stop selling in the same markets in which the OLPC--equipped with an AMD processor--is being promoted.

Microsoft has also derided the OLPC in the past, preferring to focus on its Windows Starter Edition product or an entirely different notion of bringing computing to the developing world on cell phones. Just this week at CES, Bill Gates said "OLPC hasn't done that well. We're in literally over 100 countries with special versions of Windows, including Starter Edition. OLPC is nowhere compared to where we are on this thing."

Who knows whether this is another marriage doomed from the start, but give Negroponte credit for recognizing the need for Windows on the XO. Like it or not, it's a Windows-dominated world, and pretending that developing nations won't want access to the huge library of Windows applications out there isn't really serving their needs.

And a dual-boot solution is an elegant way of supporting both operating systems without forcing one or the other on the user. I wonder if a dual-boot XO would require beefier hardware, and therefore nudge that cost up a little more, but it's unclear right now what type of performance requirements we'd be looking at with this version of Windows.

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