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Last week, we told you about how a 17,000-seat deal for Mandriva Linux in Nigerian classrooms had been scuttled by Microsoft at the last moment. Well, the saga continues: according to the IDG News Service, the deal is still on.
Although the contract calls for 17,000 computers and operating systems, the money isn't coming from a single pocket. The Nigerian Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) is paying for the majority of the systems (11,000), and a spokesman for USPF said "We are sticking with that platform," meaning Mandriva Linux.
Microsoft isn't going to give up on Nigeria. Microsoft's Nigerian product manager says that the folks from Redmond are negotiating a $400,000 deal with the Nigerian Technology Support Center for marketing activities once the Classmate PCs are switched to Windows XP Pro. TSC is in charge of the classroom computer deployment, and it's also the company that had tried to scuttle the Mandriva deal.
Why would Microsoft offer $400,000 in "marketing funds" on a 17,000 seat contract? The math, at first glance, makes no sense. However, dig a little deeper, and you discover that the stakes are much higher. After the first 17,000 systems are deployed, another 100,000 are part of phase two.
Mandriva, on the other hand, is not making a ton of money on this deal, assuming it goes through. According to Dele Ajisomo, who owns Microbyte International, the West Africa representative for Mandriva, Nigeria will pay around $10/seat for each Mandriva license, including support.
If Mandriva finally wins out in Nigeria, it will be a major victory for Linux. So, why should Windows users care about a measily 17,000 seat contract, and whether the competitors are playing fair? As anyone who's been reading this blog (and comments) over the last few months knows, lots of Microsoft users (including me) want Windows to stop acting as if it owns users' desktops, want higher-quality software, and, in general, want the folks in Redmond to realize they work for us, the users, and not vice-versa.
The only way that will happen is if Microsoft has genuine competition on the desktop. Whether you call it MacOS X Leopard, Mandriva, Ubuntu, Fedora, or some operating system or distro that's yet to be born, doesn't matter. What does matter, whether you prefer penguins or Start buttons, GUIs or command lines, is that there's more than one choice. Choice leads to innovation - and that's good for everyone.