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Interview with Mandriva CEO, François Bancilhon

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I had the opportunity to speak Monday afternoon with the CEO of Mandriva, François Bancilhon. Recently, a deal with the Nigerian government to use and install Mandriva Linux on 17,000 Intel Classmate PCs was derailed when the government decided to overwrite the installed operating system with Windows XP.

Since our conversation was fairly informal (and over the phone), I’ll summarize the key points, as well as his answers to my questions.
What happened?

I asked Mr. Bancilhon to comment as directly as he could about happened behind the scenes to cause such an about-face from the Nigerian government. While, as he noted, Mandriva are still gathering facts themselves about a situation that seems even more complex than it looked in the beginning, he was able to give a sense of the process. Most importantly, the process was competitive; Microsoft was part of this competition to place a particular software platform on the Classmate PCs to be deployed in Nigeria. He explained that it was a truly “global deal,” with engineering done in Brazil, final production of the machines in Taiwan, and customers taking delivery in Nigeria. Not surprisingly, the process was both lengthy and complicated.

However, in the end, as is the model for most of the Classmate deployments, the software vendor/partner was chosen by the customer (in this case, Mandriva) and OEMs were provided with the operating system. The local OEMs had actually started loading the software and shipping the laptops with Mandriva installed. Within an hour of a call with Mandriva’s Nigerian partners discussing the status of the shipments and the deal itself, Mr. Bancilhon was informed that the Nigerian government would honor the agreement with Mandriva, but would replace the software on all of the laptops with Windows XP and Office 2003. The exact motivation for this switch remains unclear. Mr. Bancilhon believes that there is still some hope for a resolution favorable to Mandriva; we will have to wait and see.

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