September 27, 2005

Asianux 2.0

Author: Irfan Habib

Last month, Chinese Red Flag Software, Japanese Miracle Linux, and South Korean HaanSoft jointly released the GNU/Linux-based operating system Asianux 2.0. The three companies will package and sell Asianux 2.0 under their individual brand names.

A single unified Linux standard in Asia could promote the uptake of Linux on the continent at the expense of Microsoft Windows. The distribution has already won a major contract for deployment at South Korea's National Education Information System (NEIS) project, where a system is being developed to handle student records for 10,000 schools across the country.

Asianux is not a distribution in the sense that its three vendors will sell it in a single packaged form; rather it is meant to be a platform upon which the vendors will build their own products.

The creation of a pan-Asian standard could encourage software and hardware companies to certify their products on Linux, since they will no longer need to support multiple versions of the open source operating system. Asianux's three vendors have set up an ISV certification and support program, and more than 40 hardware and application vendors have signed up for certification, including AMD, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, NEC, and China's Langchao. On the software front, backers for Asianux include Trend Micro, Sophos, and Computer Associates.

Oracle, which owns a majority stake in Miracle Linux, is the only business software developer so far to put its full weight behind the new Linux operating system. At its China conference, Oracle said Asianux will be one of the three Linux flavors it will support as part of its "Unbreakable Linux" marketing campaign.

Oracle will now provide worldwide, round-the-clock joint technical support for customers who have implemented Asianux alongside Oracle's 10g offerings. Previously, such perks were limited to companies that have used Oracle products on Linux distributions from Red Hat and Novell's SUSE Linux.

First impressions

To see how much of the introductory hoopla was hype and hot air, I download the ISOs to test the distribution. From the installation, it looks as if Asianux is a sort of mirror image of Red Hat Enterprise. Its installer is based on Anaconda, which makes the installation easy for a layperson. It offers help all the way and hardware autodetection.

Asianux comes packaged with 3.3GB of software, including KDE and GNOME desktops, with a strong emphasis on language tools, especially for Korean, Japanese, and Chinese. Asianux is an RPM-based distribution that comes with an installation tool that helps users install, upgrade, and remove binary RPM applications.

My first problem with Asianux occurred soon after my first startup. The X server wouldn't load the graphics card driver. However, a few changes to the Xorg.conf file got my X server working. When the desktop loading was complete, the user interface looked remarkably similar to that of Microsoft Windows.

The desktop features My Documents Folder, My Computer, a Start button, a Recycle Bin, and a start menu and Control Panel similar to that of Windows. In other words, Asianux appears to be attempting to copy Windows using open source software, presumably to maximize the ease of Windows-to-Linux migration.

Asianux comes prepackaged with SELinux, which is an extension to the Linux kernel that enforces mandatory access control. With an SELinux-enabled Linux distribution, you can define explicit rules about which subjects (users or programs) can access which objects (files or devices). You can think of it as an internal firewall, which gives you the ability to separate programs, thereby ensuring a high level of security within the operating system.

Asianux also supports common networking technologies such as Network Information System, LDAP, Heisod, Winbind, Kerberos, and SMP.

A competitor to enterprise Linux distros?

Despite its ostentatious goal of becoming "the" Asian Linux, Asianux enters an Asian Linux market that is already extremely competitive, with Novell SUSE, Turbolinux, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and The Sun Wah Linux Distribution, which are all jostling for a piece of Asia's Linux market.

The three Asianux companies have plans to expand the distro's reach and introduce Malaysian and Indian companies to its fold. If they can successfully execute this strategy, Asianux will expand to a larger portion of Asia. If the companies build on Asianux as a common platform, and localize it, it will provide a definite edge to the distribution over other Asian distributions. In the current climate in Asia, where piracy is rampant, Asianux won't take market share away from Windows, since to Windows users, Asianux looks no different than their current operating system, and both come at the same price.


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