Mandriva CEO François Bancilhon has asked Steve Ballmer what it feels like to look at himself in the mirror.
In an open letter to the Microsoft head honcho, posted to the web late last night, Bancilhon claims that the Nigerian government has somehow decided to install Windows on 17,000 brand new PCs already equipped with Mandriva Linux. And he questions whether Ballmer and company used dirty tricks to make it happen.
According to Bancilhon, Mandriva just shipped 17,000 Intel Classmate PCs (CMPCs) to the Nigerian government for use in local schools. And naturally, all 17,0000 were pre-loaded with the company's latest Linux distro, Mandriva 2008.
The Paris-based Linux outfit recently opened a new headquarters in Lagos, Nigeria, hoping to spread open source tools throughout West Africa. But it seems to be facing some stiff competition from that software behemoth in Redmond.
Evidently, Microsoft had urged the Nigerian government to choose Windows for those 17,000 school machines. But in the end, Mandriva won the day.
"We presented the solution to the local government, they liked the machine, they liked our system, they liked what we offered them, the fact that it was open, that we could customize it for their country and so on," Bancilhon tells Ballmer. "Then your people entered the game and the deal got more competitive. I would not say it got dirty, but someone could have said that. They fought and fought the deal, but still the customer was happy to get CMPC and Mandriva."
Well, Mandriva won the day temporarily.
Steve and the mirror
Just as the machines were being delivered, the Nigerians gave Bancilhon a bit of unexpected news: "We shall pay for the Mandriva Software as agreed," they told him, "but we shall replace it by Windows afterward."
Bancilhon thinks Ballmer has something to do with this little missive. "Wow! I’m impressed, Steve! What have you done for these guys to change their mind like this? It’s pretty clear to me, and it will be clear to everyone. How do you call what you just did Steve, in the place where you live? In my place, they give it various names, I’m sure you know them."
"Hey Steve," Bancilhon adds, "how do you feel looking at yourself in the mirror in the morning?"
Despite the news from Nigeria, Bancilhon vows to battle on. "I will keep fighting this one and the next one, and the next one. You have the money, the power, and maybe we have a different sense of ethics you and I, but I believe that hard work, good technology and ethics can win too."
And with a post script, he urges the Nigerians to change their mind. Again. "PS: a message to our friends in Nigeria: it’s still time to do the right thing and make the right choice, you will get lots of support for it and excellent services!"
We asked Microsoft how the company managed to convince the Nigerians that they should switch to Windows after they'd already paid for Mandriva, and this is what it said: "Microsoft operates its business in accordance both with the laws of the countries in which it operates and with international law. Microsoft does not comment on customer procurement processes."
The company also failed to tell us whether it's Windows Vista the Nigerians plan on installing over Mandriva. Whatever trick Ballmer has pulled, we're worried all those Nigerian school children will soon be using an OS that has difficulty running more than one application at a time.
Microsoft has sent us another email on this issue. The company also wanted to point out that Windows is better than Linux:
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.
We have no doubt that the company has "a strong relationship with the government in Nigeria." ®