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Lessons from Africa: How to Kill Your Own FUD

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

In a world where the big conglomerates and industries tend to
roll over the little guy, it was really nice to see the government
of Nigeria put the kibosh on Microsoft’s planned takeover of the
Mandriva/Classmate PC deal in that country.

The original deal called for the initial deployment of 17,000
Classmates, all pre-loaded with Mandriva, to be purchased by
Nigeria and deployed by a private supplier, Technology Support
Center. For some reason–nobody’s completely sure why, though
there’s a good guess coming up–the TSC informed Mandriva that they
would reinstall Windows XP on those machines before deploying
them.

Understandably, the folks at Mandriva were–pardon their
French–pissed.
CEO François Bancilhon broke out the whup-ass (another
French term) and fired off a public letter that stopped just short
of accusing Microsoft of corruption.

Today, we learned from a
Computerworld UK story
, there did seem to be some money
floating around in the back channels. Apparently, according to
Microsoft’s own man on the ground in Nigeria, “Microsoft is still
negotiating an agreement that would give TSC US$400,000 for
marketing activities around the Classmate PCs when those computers
are converted to Windows.”

Here’s what I want to know (he wrote facetiously): in a world
where Windows is supposed to be so much better than Linux on every
platform, how come Microsoft has to pay people to get them to use
it instead of Linux?

Uh huh, thought so.

It seems as if in virtually every instance of a major deployment
of Microsoft products over open source, or in the case of reverse
migrations, there has been evidence of some sort of concessions
made (lower fees, rebates, “marketing help”) by Redmond to get
their products sold.

This is an anecdotal statement, of course, but I think it’s a
lot truer than Microsoft would like the public to know. One good
pointer to this practice: the incidents where an organization
started making noise about deploying to Linux or open source
technology–only to later stay with Microsoft. It’s a deplorable
practice, but the fact that organizations do it means they know
Microsoft is willing to cough up some big discounts.

Now, on one level, these practices by Microsoft make sense. If I
make widget X and someone comes along and makes widget Y for half
the price, you can darn well bet I am going to lower the price of
widget X. But that assumes that widget X and Y are comparable
products in terms of functionality and quality.

In Microsoft-land, however, Linux is an inferior product. Open
source is inherently dangerous. If that were the case, then why
can’t Microsoft get its products into these markets without the
rebates and discounts? Sure, you’d expect Microsoft to knock down
the price of their wares a bit–there are still plenty of people
who will buy anything based on a price tag, no matter how bad the
product is. Yet, many times Microsoft will vastly cut its revenue
just to keep its toehold in the market.

The classic example is the free distribution of Internet
Explorer, which effectively killed Netscape. People migrated to IE
because of the magic price: free. Note, however, Netscape’s legacy
Firefox is rapidly coming back to kick IE in the head. Once the
price points were equal, people realized that IE still doesn’t have
what it takes in terms of security and flexibility.

So, even as Microsoft claims superior quality over Linux, they
act as if they don’t even buy their own FUD. If they really
believed that Windows was superior to Linux, they wouldn’t have to
bribe people with “marketing help” to get them to choose
Windows.

Makes one wonder what else Microsoft does to play with the
market, doesn’t it?

(Except it’s really no wonder at all.)