May 13, 2002

The outlook for Linux in Russia

Author: JT Smith

- by Bruce Tober -
"As GNU/Linux came originally from Finland, our neighboring country, it
looks like almost native for a significant part of computer community
here." So says Vyacheslav "Slava" Sobolev, Editor-in-Chief of Hard'n'Soft, a Russian monthly computer magazine. "Almost
native" it might appear, but is it really catching on in Russia? To find
an answer we queried many of the country's leading GNU/Linux gurus, and
others.

Numbers are hard to come by. Russian Information
Service (RISER) in a study commissioned
specifically for this report found, "There isn't a sales boom, high
popularity of learning courses or successful GNU/Linux-projects press-
releases." On the other hand, the report said, "increasing number of
publications and books devoted to GNU/Linux can be regarded as one of
indirect signs of GNU/Linux popularity though the relation between IT-
departments and this OS is still hidden or invisible. Nowadays, in 60%
of cases GNU/Linux is used on servers and in 23% - on workstations. In
the rest it's used both on servers and workstations."

And as Svetlana Semavina, PR manager for ASP Linux, says, a "rather
large GNU/Linux community exists in Russia. There are more than 30
GNU/Linux user groups in different Russian cities."

And its largest user base is in the business
sector, rather than at home. While admitting the unsurprising thought
that it's "not so popular as Windows," Michail Kuzmin, also of
Hard'n'Soft, notes that new Russian laws "allow any fiscal
organizations to check the software licenses of small and medium companies"
with whom they do business. So many of those companies are moving to "use server versions
of GNU/Linux, since the GNU/Linux OS license is free and most GNU/Linux software is cheap."

According to Aleksey Smirnov, director of ALTGNU/Linux
, the Russian implementation of MandrakeSoft,
"more than 30,000 copies of ALTGNU/Linux are sold yearly". But he admits RedHat and Debian are the most popular distros. And
he cites the "Rusification" of ALTGNU/Linux (and its RedHat opposite
number, ASP Linux) as major reasons for the increased take up of the
operating system.

"Now many internationalization problems are solved," he explains. But,
he says, "there is a lack of Russian OCR and financial software for
GNU/Linux."

And, he's not alone in that assessment. Semavina notes, "The main
reasons for lack of popularity of Linux in offices and homes is that the most
popular Russian accounting software, 1C, is designed for Windows,"
and, she adds, another problem is there's a "lack of games for Linux."

Another oft-cited problem for GNU/Linux is that pirated software is as
easy to come by in Russia as sunny days in summer. "Home users," explains
Alexander Rusin, R&D department manager and software designer at NooLab
Corp., "on the contrary, don't use GNU/Linux, with very-very rare
exclusions." NooLab develops linguistic databases
and engines, expert systems based on natural language analysis, and
other IT products.

The reason home users are few and far between "is very simple", he
says, "Windows is more equipped with different end-user software, it's
standard and prevalent." In addition, Rusin points out the piracy issue,
"Windows cost is not a concern, Russian home users install pirate
copies - that is absolutely total practice, at least outside Moscow."

Moreover, according to some, Microsoft OSes have traditionally been the
OSes of choice. For example, Kuzmin, who says, "the use of Microsoft in Russia
has a very long history. For many users, the phrase 'operating system' and the term 'Windows' are synonymous. Windows has a
special Russian version, so for non-
English users, Windows Rus is the preferable software."

Maxim Vorsobine, developer of FurtherTime, a Windows game soon to be
coming in a GNU/Linux version says, "Windows is
everywhere. It is also a well-known fact that domestic banks/police
databases/social services computers still run MS-DOS. Yes, DOS, due to
the enormous value of inertia. I suggest they are going to run DOS until
their employees die watching their old pc crumbling to
pieces."

Vorsobine was interviewed during Russia's 12-day Mayday
holiday period and explained that "everybody is under strong influence
of drink and cannot demonstrate any degree of intelligence in behavior
at this time." Which could account for any exaggeration in
his comments. And like Semavina, Vorsobine notes that "there are many
translated and original books on GNU/Linux so one may say that
popularity of GNU/Linux is increasing."

Rusin also believes GNU/Linux "and UNIX generally" is more popular in
Russia than in Europe/USA, "at least for web-servers. In Russia about 80
per cent of web-servers are powered by UNIX'es. In the rest of the world
it's only about 65 percent," he said. "UNIX in Russia is a business-
servers-solution and the IT-institutes' (schools) choice, unambiguously.
All professional hosting-centers, server-centers, it-centers, hi-tech
departments, institute IT-labs choose UNIX for servers. Exclusions are
very rare."

He notes that Windows-based servers are only used "where there
are important win-applications to be installed on the server, such as the
need to install MS SQL or Intarbase (rather popular here), or where the
sysadmin is not so experienced to setup UNIX."

But while he doesn't believe there's much that can be done to improve
its popularity in the home in the short term, he does venture a guess
that home users "after some years - there may be a lot of GNU/Linux-
soft, due to KDE improving, and" he believes, "the fall of pirate-
practice will cause GNU/Linux-percent growth."

Peter Novodvorsky, who also works for
ALTGNU/Linux, thinks the big Linux news in Russia is that it's "the same as in the big world -- the release of
OpenOffice 1.0. We have our own project, openoffice.ru." In addition he cites, a
few other current projects underway in Russia, which include updated URW fonts converted to TTF with good TTF hinting ;
the OpenWall GNU/Linux distribution, and GNU/Linux security patches
; MnogoSearch, site search engine
; and Namesys, the company that makes
reiserfs.

Semavina wraps things up pretty well, noting that since "most of copies
of Microsoft Windows in Russia are illegal, many SOHO firms are now
migrating to GNU/Linux because they don't want to have great expenses
to legalize their Windows."

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