Raising the Red Flag

Is it possible that the top Linux distribution--at least for desktops--is Red...Flag?

Given a combination of Chinese demographics and government encouragement, that may well be the case.

Red Flag Linux first appeared in August 1999, when it was created by the Institute of Software at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Financial help came from government-owned Shanghai NewMargin Venture Capital. In March 2001, Bloomberg News reported that CCIDNET Investment, a VC arm of the Ministry of Information Industry, had become Red Flag's second largest shareholder.

The same Bloomberg report said the purpose of Red Flag was to reduce domination of the Chinese computer market by Microsoft's Windows operating systems. The best way to do that, was to require "full transparency in terms of underlying code", said Matei Mihalca, Head of Internet Research, Asia-Pacific at Merrill-Lynch. (Interesting noun, transparency. A little different than "open" and "free". I have a feeling we'll be hearing more of it.)

Red Flag looks serious. The Chinese government doesn't just bristle at Microsoft's near-absolute market share of PC operating systems sold in China. It's as uncomfortable with operating systems that are opaque to the core. As a matter of routine, it is the custom of Customs to ask "what's in there?" And the routine answer from Microsoft is "none of your business." To a government concerned with security, that isn't always an acceptable answer.

So Microsoft doesn't only have a "piracy" problem in China, it has a transparency problem, as well as a determined foe on the part of the government's own Linux distro. It was a rather smooth chess move by the Chinese government to avoid copyright infringement and "software piracy" issues by simply promoting an operating system that obviates the issues.

And there is nothing to stop the government from being a customer of itself. According to Gartner, on December 28, 2001, the Beijing municipal government gave contracts to six local vendors and rejected the seventh. One of the six was Red Flag. The rejected seventh was Microsoft.

Red Flag is being aggressive too. It came out with an integrated desktop office suite called Chinese 2000. It signed a deal with Trolltech to create an embedded Linux platform that should be nontrivial, given the quantity of manufacturing going on in China. It joined the GNOME Foundation with the intent to localize GNOME for the Chinese population (of just 1.2 billion people). It has training and certification programs. It has a pile of products.

As for Linux on the Desktop, it isn't still on the horizon in China--it's in stores. "On a recent trip to China, I noticed that many of the Intel-compatible PCs for sale in several major department stores had a slightly different appearance than usual, apart from the language differences. I looked closely and realized they were running GNU/Linux", writes Dan Gillmor of the San Jose Mercury News. How much of that was Red Flag matters less than the fact that Linux is going mainstream in the world's largest country.

We first wrote about Red Flag two years ago, and now we're starting to think we need to pay a bit more attention. When we try to find out more on the Red Flag site, however, our lack of Chinese fluency presents a problem. Although Google and other sources point to an /english/ directory, it doesn't appear to be active. Translating the site by Babel Fish is an amusing diversion, however inaccurate. A link on the home page is titled, "Center the branch Red Flag for China will insert the type system structure future". On a page titled "The Red Flag inserts in the type system omnipresent - lottery ticket machine operating system the application", we find this:

In the hardware system aspect, Shenzhen thinks the happy data selects the industry control panel, this labor controls the board carries the string mouth, and the mouth, the Ethernet card and so on for the network transmission use, simultaneously, the external instrumentation was easy to expand, saves the hardware design cycle; The main engine disposition also sufficiently meets the need.

If anybody wants to give us some help on this whole subject, let us know.

Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal.

email: doc@ssc.com

______________________

Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal

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English

FiReSTaRT's picture

The site has an English version now. The mirrors are fairly slow. The fastest one gave me dl speeds of about 30kb/s and they're up to 55-60kb/s now. Takes a full day to dl the 3.4gb ISO. Still, it'll be interesting to run on my test machine. I think it's a 32bit-only version. The server edition seems to support 64bit architecture. If their hardware support is as stellar as touted, other Open Source developers like Canonical should take advantage.
http://www.redflag-linux.com/en/

Red Flag Linux

Stephen's picture

It's great to see a Country promote a version of Linux so well. I have been thinking of a EU-sponsored distro called EuroLinux but I have seen online there is one so that is good.

Linux is the original socialist project, well all contribute and we all own it.

Re: Raising the Red Flag

Anonymous's picture

I'm downloading this stuff right now. Open source and socialism? I'm there, dude.

Re: Raising the Red Flag

Anonymous's picture

Is the link active only if you're in china? Is this comment too late? Can you post he download link? The one on the site does not seem to work :-(

Re: Raising the Red Flag

Anonymous's picture

Open source, yes, but...socialism in China? I don't think so. However, that is another topic.

Re: Raising the Red Flag

Anonymous's picture

why that question mark dude ? socialism is always open source code

Socialism ran by a state has

Mikko Lipiäinen's picture

Socialism ran by a state has never been even near the idea of open source and never will be. Does Red Flag Linux project which is supported by one of the most notorious countries in the world really follow the principles of open source? Linux community should monitor critically the development of the Red Flag and contribute to it´s development to a more open system.

Re: Raising the Red Flag

Anonymous's picture

Under the features listed for the Desktop Version 2.4: "Support up to 6.4 billion users and groups".

I guess in China that's a potential selling point!

Re: Raising the Red Flag

Anonymous's picture

Let me try to translate it:

> The Red Flag inserts in the type system omnipresent - lottery ticket machine operating system the application

RedFlag embedded system is everywhere - application in the lottery machine OS

> In the hardware system aspect, Shenzhen thinks the

> happy data selects the industry control panel, this labor

> controls the board carries the string mouth, and the

> mouth, the Ethernet card and so on for the network

> transmission use, simultaneously, the external

> instrumentation was easy to expand, saves the hardware

> design cycle; The main engine disposition also

> sufficiently meets the need.

In the hardware aspect, SileData in Shenzhen selects a industrial control

board which integrates serial port, parallel port, ethernet card for network

transmission, etc. Also, peripherals can be added easily which reduces hardware

development cycle. The CPU is sufficient for the requirement.

Re: Raising the Red Flag

Anonymous's picture

$%^$%^@#$%!!!!!

the download links for redflag desktop dont seem to werk for me

lol

Re: Raising the Red Flag

Anonymous's picture

Interesting... the front page of the redflag site seems to list two products: Server 3.0 and Functional Server 3.0. Uhmm, I'll take the functional one, please.

I wonder if this is a translation problem akin to when Chevy used to sell the Nova. They had really bad problems with that car in spanish speaking countries since "no va" means, "no go". And, of course, "all your base...."

Re: Raising the Red Flag

Anonymous's picture

No, "no va" means "it doesn't go" not "no go".
Of course, that's even worse.

Re: Raising the Red Flag

scott's picture

Interesting icons they have on their site, the little color-square icons are the MSN butterfly colors reversed.

Re: Raising the Red Flag

Anonymous's picture

the english version seems fully active to me: http://www.redflag-linux.com/eindex.html

Re: Raising the Red Flag

Anonymous's picture

I also was able to access the Red Flag Linux English version without problems. Clear and concise was my take on it.. Look out USA vendors...

Re: Raising the Red Flag

Anonymous's picture

And what an interesting site it is. I was particularly taken with the Red Flag Internet Ready Microwave Oven.

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