Raise the Red Flag Linux

by David Penni

Kick and scream all you want, lovers of free peoples and free software, but the Chinese really like their Linux.

So much that China has allegedly banned the use of Windows 2000 in its government offices in deference to their own Linux distribution, Red Flag Linux, according to a story from the South China Morning Post. In a later story from Reuters, Chinese officials denied that Windows had been "banned" per se, although the story did note several points of contention between China and Microsoft, ranging from accusations of computer piracy to counter-accusations of monopolism and economic imperialism.

The story about China, Red Flag Linux and Microsoft originally appeared in Wednesday's edition of the Yangcheng Evening News. The report quoted an unnamed Ministry of Information official, who claimed that the Chinese government was actively encouraging computer users to buy domestic software, in particular Red Flag Linux, a distribution of Linux being developed by Chinese programmers. Red Flag Linux is reportedly geared toward personal computers and will be available in mid-2000.

Previous reports about Linux and China have suggested an increasing interest among many government officials for the advantages an open-source operating system would provide. And, as is the case here in the United States, the interest in Linux is both ideological and practical. Ideologically, the Chinese are committed to developing computing technology that is as independent of Western corporate control as possible. While Windows is still the predominant PC operating system in China, Linux has made significant inroads in the East, particularly in the server market and among institutions and government ministries.

Other reasons for Chinese interest are equally familiar. Linux is inexpensive, highly scalable, and--as a non-proprietary operating system--something the Chinese will be able to modify and tailor to their specific preferences and needs. The ability to "get under the hood" also paves the way for major educational opportunities for thousands of young Chinese interested in computer programming and software development.

Chinese officials also pointed to fears of security problems in Windows 98 and Windows 2000 as additional reasons why other operating systems, such as Linux, were being considered. Topmost among their concerns was the coding flaw in earlier versions of Windows 98 that permitted Microsoft to gather information about individual users without their knowledge. Reportedly, the coding flaw has been repaired.

One overview on Linux in China, from the perspective of a Chinese graduate student, is available at Slashdot.

email: david@ssc.com

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