January 25, 2007

China's Linux industry booms, despite problems

Author: Chen Nan Yang

At the 2006 China Linux User Convention, held in Beijing on December 21, Chinese Linux users, producers, press, and analysts discussed recent developments in China's Linux and open source industry.

Zhang Shiliang, who is in charge of the use of open source software in Beijing's Pinggu County government, spoke about the problems of Linux use in his organization. Chinese government is one of the biggest Linux buyers in the country. Since the Pinggu government began to push the use of open source software in 2004, 85% of their 4,680 computers have installed Linux or other open source software. But 53% of them still have to install Microsoft Windows as well, because their superior government uses Windows or other operating systems -- even other incompatible editions of Linux.

Zhang suggested that Linux companies work together to enact a uniform industry standard to avoid incompatibility among themselves and improve compatibility with Windows, or at least "promote the use of open source software [in the government] from up to down, not from down to up. If software companies sell Linux to superior governments first, then junior governments have to follow them," Zhang says.

Zhang also says that open source or Linux companies "still don't have a complete set of service offerings. Although the price of native companies' open source software is much lower than that of the foreign companies', we have to spend too much time, money, and manpower after buying them."

Lu Shouqun, president of China OSS Promotion Union, said the situation had been improving. "Some companies violated open source protocols, such as GPL, in the past, but now they have began to put the thing right," says Lu. He claimed that China's open source industry has finish its "startup era" and entered into the "development era," and companies have began to improved compatibility.

Hu Ke, an analyst from CCID Consulting, said China's Linux industry has problems in products, users, communities, and market channels. Hu said that there are too many incompatible Linux editions in the industry, which hampers their promotion.

Hu agreed with Zhang that "Linux users care very much about support from producers," but the support seems not enough. "China's open source communities are relatively small and don't have much influence. They is a lack of big projects, few participants, and little money."

Hu also said that the market channels of China's open source industry are not very "clear," which brings higher risk in "service, application, and supply." Because of these problems, some inappropriate things may happen in the industry. In some cases, the government may not buy software from the best vendor, but from a close one, for example.

Though she says there are many problems in the industry, Hu still believes that China's Linux industry will grow quickly in the next five years. "More and more users now accept Linux. The government is pushing the use of it. Market channels are improving. Windows and Linux producers work together to improve the compatibility between each other. Add the anti-piracy movement from Microsoft and the development of virtual technologies -- all these factors will push the growth of the market."

Hu forecasts that China's Linux market would increased an average of 28% per year between 2006 and 2010.

According to Lu Shouqun, China's sale of Linux was 175 million yuan ($21 million) in 2005, increasing 81% compared with the previous year. The sale of other open source software that year was 160 million yuan ($19 million). In the operating system market, the share of Linux increased from 4.2% to 9.8% between 2003 and 2005.

But Microsoft also won in that game. "In fact, China's increase of Linux users didn't impair the use of Windows," Lu says. According to his figures, Windows' share of the operating system market increased from 55.1% to 64.8% between 2003 and 2005. Linux mainly took users from Unix, whose share decreased from 30.9% to 19.8%.

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