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Home >> Opinion
UPDATED: 18:56, June 17, 2006
Gloomy prospects for domestic Linux industry
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A Linux specialist who declined to be named, said recently that of all the Linux kernel codes, none are developed by Chinese. The situation has been acknowledged by Ni Guangnan, an academic with the Chinese Academy of Engineering and a strong advocate of Linux in China.

Prior to this, the Kylin operating system - which is funded by the National 863 High-Tech Program - was found to have plagiarized from the FreeBSD5.3. An anonymous internet user, who goes by the handle name "Dancefire", pointed out similarities between the two systems reached 99.45 percent.

By contrast, systems developed by Red Hat, Oracle, Novell, HP, IBM, Intel and other US-based companies have been accepted by the Linux kernel team. According to the US Business Weekly, those companies have occupied 90 percent of Linux seats as kernel contributors.

Though China has not been able to contribute to Linux kernel development, it does not mean they cannot use the technology. However, the absence of technology is indeed a barrier. Some worry that domestic Linux firms are facing a grim future.

So far, only Gong Min, dubbed the "father" of Linux China, has partaken in international Linux kernel development. Ultimately, however, the 3000 lines of code that he developed were not included.

An insider reported that Gong Min quit his job with Linux after he returned to China.

A Chinese Linux specialist from the Computer Institute at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xie Hua, was also considered a very favorable candidate, but in the end, he too was rejected.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai Municipal Government and the Ministry of Information Industry established the Red Flag Software Co. Ltd in 1999 �C the largest and most rapidly developing Linux vendor in China �C to take on Linux development, and most of their efforts have been concentrated on the development of some simple software and localization of the operating system.

"Dancefire", the user who exposed the Kylin system, is also a Chinese student studying in Australia. He pointed out that most homegrown Linux products are in fact copies, and that compared with the US Red Hat, there are not many things that are created by Chinese. He worries that such a situation is a threat to China's development in the industry.

Academic Ni Guangnan maintains a positive outlook though concedes it will be hard to change China's current situation. He argues that as Chinese companies and individuals' contributions grow, Linux promotions in China will increase rapidly.

He added that Mao Decao, a specialist in Linux, has proposed a "compatible kernel" plan, which aims to redevelop the Linux kernel and make it compatible with Windows' application software. If Mao's study was adopted by Linux, he would become the first Chinese to partake in the international development of open source software, said Ni.

Unfortunately, this is not to be. A senior Chinese official said regretfully that China does not yet have the ability to grasp Linux kernel technology. China should consider whether it is realistic to alter the situation in the industry using a foreign-developed Linux system. Domestic Linux firms need to reconsider their current situation.

It may not be worthwhile to inject huge amounts of money into the project while there is so little return being made. It is difficult to calculate exactly how much money the Chinese government has injected into the Linux project because the funds have been distributed into so many departments and projects.

According to Ni Guangnan, China spends tens of millions of RMB each year on Linux development.

So far, five companies have been set up to develop Linux. The government invested millions of RMB to help establish them and has spent millions more supporting them.

However, the only progress that seems to have been made by the Chinese companies is in product imitation, and this provides no return on such a huge investment

The Kylin event revealed a problem in China's open source software investment. Many Chinese now begin to suspect the legitimacy of domestic open source products.

Ni Guangnan said, however, that compared with the billions of US dollars invested by Microsoft into its Windows software, Chinese software programmers are doing very well. It is still unknown whether China will continue to increase investment in the project.

Linux China has pinned their hopes on breaking the international monopoly, but a breakthrough does not seem likely in the near future.

On the contrary, Linux has become a measure by which the international software giants seek restructuring. The significance of open source software lies in the change of software delivery, said Qian Lei, an analyst at CCIDC Consulting, a leading Chinese consulting firm.

This may be an irony after years of effort in commercializing open source software. As software companies no longer rely on authorized software as a major source of profit, it will be hard for anyone to gain independence from the powerful IT giants, and most Linux firms will be forced to be dependent on IT suppliers if they wish to survive.

Novell's rise in the United States has once again demonstrated IBM's absolute dominance in the open source field.

Not long ago, Red Hat acquired Jboss to expand into the middleware market.

IBM, Oracle, Sun and other companies are leaders in open source software but now Microsoft is considering entering the market. Perhaps that would see Microsoft become the most profitable company in the open source market.

By People's Daily Online


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