Chinas Red Flag Sees Desktop as Linux Battlefield

Q&A: The vice president of the dominant Linux supplier in China says government support is creating opportunities for desktop Linux to grow.

Zhongyuan Zheng, vice president of Red Flag Software Co. Ltd. of Beijing, said he believes the next big battleground in China (as well as throughout the world, but in China now) will be the desktop, with desktop Linux continuing to creep in and fight Windows dominance in the country.

Red Flag is the dominant Linux supplier in China, holding 60 percent of Chinas Linux market. During a panel discussion Zheng said, "I dont want to replace all Windows in China; I just want to provide more choice."

The Red Flag Linux distribution was developed at the Software Research Institute of The Chinese Academy of Sciences, but branded under the Red Flag name.

Zheng shared some of his views on Linux, open source and Chinas IT future in a rare, candid interview with eWEEK senior editor Darryl K. Taft last week in Beijing.

You said you think desktop Linux is the next big trend. What makes you say that? What is the status of desktop Linux in China?

Chinas government promotes and supports desktop Linux very strongly. So they hope that … Well, as you know, piracy in China has been very significant. So the government hopes that Linux—legal software such as Linux—can replace all this piracy.

And from the end of last year, the central government asked the provincial governments and the city governments to buy legal software to replace all of the previously illegal software.

These governments—city and provincial—compared the performance, capabilities and price of desktop Linux and Windows and they considered whether they could migrate all their applications from Windows to Linux. So finally about 30 percent of desktops in China now use Linux. Microsoft has about 60 percent. We have about 30 percent. So we are the second winner in this program.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read about a recent meeting between major Linux developers and the resulting interoperability project.

China is a developing country. Microsoft Windows and the Office suite are very expensive for China, even for the government. So we hope that we can use less money, spend less money and use it to buy legal software. And next year the central government will ask enterprises to use legal software. So this is a big opportunity for desktop Linux.

Do you have any competition here in terms of desktop Linux?

Yes, we have competition. We have competition mostly from other local Linux vendors. But they are very, very small.

How long has Red Flag been in existence?

More than five years. Red Flag was set up in the year 2000 and our first version, for the server, was done in 1999.

Is it your own distribution or related to another?

Yes, its our own distribution. We developed our distribution for the server, the desktop and embedded Linux. We have different product lines.

How much do you see middleware and infrastructure software open-sourced here?

You mean using open-source middleware?


Until now, the government has chosen Linux for their IT infrastructure. I dont think there are many cases for using open-source middleware in mission-critical areas. In mission-critical areas, commercial software has the biggest market share in China. But in some very special areas, such as the Army and other special departments, the government wants to use software developed by local vendors, due to security reasons.

I think if they [government and commercial enterprises] want to use it in large-scale environments they will choose mature commercial products.

BEA [Systems Inc.]s Alfred Chuang spoke about his vision that China will become one of the worlds IT powers. Do you share that vision?

China has the potential and it is becoming one of the most important powers in the IT world, but we need time.

What kinds of open-source projects do you see Chinese developers working on—especially developers who are employed in commercial companies, but who work on open-source software in their spare time?

Most Chinese developers are only recently getting involved with open-source projects. Some are very famous Linux-based projects, such as a GUI environment for embedded Linux.

Open-source software is very new in China. Most Chinese developers learned and worked in Windows. There is no open-source tradition. It is very different than in the western world because many more westerners were familiar with Unix, and its easy to migrate from Unix to Linux. But China has had more history with Windows.

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