Let a Thousand Penguins Bloom!

by David Penni

When Linux Journal publisher Phil Hughes said in an interview with The Seattle Times that the Linux operating system in specific, and the Open Source community in general, were the first working implementation of communism in modern times, more than a few Linux enthusiasts howled with outrage.

But with the People's Republic of China itself expressing enthusiasm over the “community ethos” of the Open Source movement, perhaps the link between Linux and socialism is not as far-fetched as some would prefer.

GraphOn Corporation (NASDAQ: GOJO), developers of thin, server-based software that facilitates the use of a variety of applications over a network, has signed a “memorandum of understanding” with the China-based Minmetals Townlord Information Technology, Inc. that will put GraphOn Bridges software into universities and military institutions around China. GraphOn Bridges software is highly scalable and can deliver server-based Linux, UNIX and Windows applications over local area networks, the Internet, or through dial-up connections directly to the server—all without altering the application's code itself. GraphOn Bridges includes both UNIXBridge and LinuxBridge. A similar product for Windows applications, called WinBridge, is also being added.

Said Walt Keller, CEO and President of GraphOn, “The flexibility and scalability of our software gives the Chinese ... the greatest latitude in selecting the software and hardware options that best suit their diverse needs.”

“Community ethos” notwithstanding, the “diverse needs” in China tend to revolve around dealing with the country's huge stock of aging PCs and the persistent problem of getting the newest Windows software to work on increasingly obsolete hardware in China.

GraphOn's partner, Minmetals Townlord Information Technology, Inc., formed last year, is a Chinese IT startup that specializes in delivering multimedia information technology to those in the educational field. Their strategy—involving another Chinese corporation, Sundiro, which provides information-security software—represents the first full-scale implementation of server-based computing in China. The first deployment of GraphOn Bridges will take place this month at Beijing Concord College, a private school serving grades 10 through college level.

Said Francis Pang, Chairman of Beijing Concord College, “GraphOn Bridges technology offers a means to rapidly deliver Linux, UNIX and Windows applications to more than five million students in the next three years. We see thin client, server-based computing as the path to network our many older PCs while playing a key role in a post-PC connectivity strategy.”

One plus for the Chinese in the open-source, server-based approach is the ability of China to play more of a role in its own computing destiny, as opposed to having that destiny dictated to them by a proprietary (and capitalist) Western corporation. Said Zhicheng Yang, General Manager of Sundiro, “We anticipate GraphOn's operating system-neutral architecture will afford Chinese PC users the flexibility to use both old and new technology. This freedom enables us to be productive today while spawning a native Chinese IT community that will be able to develop future applications that reflect China's own culture.”

As you might imagine, however, some are suggesting that China's interest in server-based computing may not be as honorable as it seems. According to a report on Yahoo! UK, what the Chinese are especially interested in is the ability to keep tabs on just what kind of computing Chinese citizens are up to.

All the same, there are serious obstacles to wiring a country of a billion people living in a half-closed, half-open economy. For all of the ominous and well-deserved fears of Big Server in China, the idea of installing thousands of individual operating systems and applications for thousands of individual Chinese computer users (“Let a Thousand Desktops Bloom?”) is a daunting notion for a Chinese leadership determined to stay connected to an increasingly wired world.

Said Robin Ford, executive vice president for GraphOn, in the aforementioned report from Yahoo! UK, “It's all about control but it's not an ugly or bad control. It's not a big brother thing. It's about cost control ... they've looked at the problems that other markets have had with desktop-based applications and want to avoid them.”

And with the increased emphasis on network computing and application service providers here in the West, China's latest technology play may be just the strategy it needs to incorporate the best of Torvalds, Ellison, and Gates.

email: david@ssc.com

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