Apparently deciding that getting $3 per computer in schools was better than nothing, Bill Gates announced in Beijing last week that Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) would sell a version of Windows called Microsoft Student Innovation Suite at said price to government customers buying Windows-based PCs to primary and secondary school students.
The timing was more interesting than people think, and had nothing to do with his trip out this way.
See, at the same time Gates was announcing his 99% discount on Windows for schools, Canonical software was launching and offering for free the newest version of the company's extremely-user-friendly version of Linux, Ubuntu 7.04 (Feisty Fawn to its friends.)
Now, I've extolled the virtues of Ubuntu 6 as a better alternative to Windows XP. By all accounts (I haven't been able to get my hands on a copy yet), Ubuntu 7 is a leap forward in ease of use, to the point where many people - myself included - would never think of going back to Windows.
Whether the guys in Redmond admit it or not, in countries around the world where large chunks of the population live on $1 a day or less, Ubuntu is in a great position to squeeze Windows out of some pretty lucrative markets. Bill's $3 gambit is not about stopping piracy. If it were, he'd make the deal more broadly available. Bill's $3 gambit is about stopping Ubuntu.
Which of course, is free (as in "free beer," and "free disks mailed to your home or office"), and comes with all kinds of excellent software. I can say now with conviction that if I were ever to be forced to give up Mac OSX, Ubuntu can do anything I need to get done.
Let the battle begin.