As long-time readers may have guessed, I have more than a little admiration for Mandriva. They stuck it out through financial problems, and (thus far) seem to be standing firm on not entering into some kind of patent-promise arrangement with Redmond.
So I was more than a little curious when François Bancilhon, the CEO of Mandriva, fired a sardonic mortar at Microsoft last week, accusing our favorite proprietary vendor of ruining a deal Mandriva had with Nigeria for 17,000 pre-Mandriva loaded Classmate PCs.
I fired up the e-mail client and tossed out some posers. I initially asked Bancilhon where the deal stood right now. He replied that Mandriva was "currently trying to get more information on the local situation." That would be the gist of Bancilhon's answers, because it seems no answers have been terribly forthcoming from Nigeria.
That, I sense, is why Bancilhon is so torqued about this deal collapsing. It's bad enough that the deal crashed--but to not know exactly why or how would be immensely frustrating.
Bancilhon's blog indicated that Nigeria would take the PCs with Mandriva installed, then install Windows later. I asked if his contacts in Nigeria had indication of what Nigeria would have to pay for those new Windows licenses, if anything. Again, he'd gotten no indication on this, nor did the government explain why they wanted to migrate to Windows at all.
Even more maddening was the way Mandriva discovered something was amiss. It turns out that Nigeria didn't bother to let them know directly. "I learned it on Wednesday, after a journalist called the contact I gave them in Nigeria. We checked the source, the news [was] confirmed on that same day." Which was ridiculously embarrassing, given that Mandriva had issued its press release announcing the finalization of the deal on Tuesday [October 30].
To me, having covered the crime beat before, this has all the ear marks of a classic mugging: a shadowy assailant, a rapid strike, and a stunned victim. Because Mandriva is stunned by this. They knew Microsoft was in the running for a similar deal, but had no idea they would be able to outright steal it.
Microsoft, naturally, denies any wrongdoing. "Microsoft has a strong relationship with the government in Nigeria and will continue to partner with government and industry to help meet their needs," a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement sent my colleague Sean Michael Kerner. "Microsoft operates its business in accordance both with the laws of the countries in which it operates and with international law."
Except I thought it was "convicted monopolist," not "acquitted monopolist." Hm, funny.
My last question for Bancilhon definitely falls into the cynical category. Given the fact that Mandriva, by Nigeria's statements, is still going to get paid for the delivery of the 17k Mandriva/Classmates, what's the long-term harm?
I told you it was cynical. But, upsetting as the deal killing was, I was actually trying to look for a silver lining in all of this. Turns out, it's all cloud, no lining.
"Our idea of doing business is not to sell products which get dumped, it is to establish a win-win partnership with a customer who benefits from our products and services," Bancilhon replied. Also, there are more practical concerns.
"The 17,000 [PCs] are a first phase with more machines [to be sold later]," the CEO explained, "and this deal is representative of similar deals in many parts of the world."
In other words, Nigeria's actions, whatever their motivation, could sabotage similar deals with other nations.
It's the mugging that keeps on giving.