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Homegrown developers look to unseat Microsoft’s dominant OS(2)

2014-10-23 13:21 Global Times Web Editor: Qin Dexing

Building an ecosystem

Despite Microsoft's setbacks in China, Windows still dominates China's OS market, a situation that is not likely to change soon.

According to independent website analytics company StatCounter, over 97 percent of computer users in China accessed the Internet from a computer with Windows installed this September. Windows 7 is the most popular OS in China, powering 55.07 percent of China's PCs. Windows XP, which no longer receives technical support from Microsoft, is still installed on 35-44 percent of computers.

In contrast, Linux, the operating system upon which most homegrown OSs are based, is nowhere to be seen in the statistics, with a market share of less than 1 percent.

"One of the major reasons why homegrown OSs have such a small market share is that there are too few third-party applications that can be run on them. [Building a homegrown app store would aim] to solve this problem," Cao Dong, secretary-general of Ni's new alliance, told the Global Times.

Standard Software's Li Zhensheng echoes Cao: "There are millions of applications out there for Windows, each fulfilling different needs, while there only a few thousand for Linux systems. This is our main disadvantage."

This is why the first brainchild of the alliance is an app store that will serve all of China's homegrown Linux-based OSs, as long as they all adhere to the same technical standards.

Ni said the app store, whose registration pending government approval, will also help standardize China's OS market and help build a healthy business ecosystem, which he believes is vital for the industry's growth.

Ni said he is counting on the central government to promote homegrown OSs for government use. "We hope to be included in China's government procurement catalogue, which will boost government use of our system. Commercialization is the second step," he said.

"At the end of the day, I expect the 15 operating systems to merge into one or two operating systems, while the rest of the developers can shift into providing other relevant services," Ni said.

Ni's project was met with scorn online. Yuan Meng, a professor at Peking University, said on his personal blog that Ni's plan to replace Windows with a homegrown OS is "a daydream." "Microsoft doesn't call itself an 'American Operating System,'" he said, implying that patriotism has nothing to do with making a good product.

Meanwhile, some Net users complained about their unhappy experiences with homegrown OSs. Mr Di, a high-school teacher in Xiamen, Fujian province, said he has used both Red Flag, a classic Chinese OS, and NeoKylin OS. "Both of them resemble Windows too much and lack originality," he told the Global Times.

Others, however, are more optimistic about China's developers. Sha Song, a playwright working in television drama in Beijing, uses NeoKylin OS in his writing and likes the "loneliness" of using a Linux system. "It's [good] enough if you only use the office suite, browse the Web and check e-mails. But other than these, there are barely any other applications available," he said. He said the system could attract more users if more applications were developed.

Reasons for caution

Han Weili, a data security expert and vice dean at Fudan University's Software School, urged caution, saying that China's homegrown operating systems are not necessarily more secure than their foreign alternatives, due to their developers' relatively weak research and development capabilities and the lack of a strong business ecosystem supporting them. "For example, many of China's operating systems lack a bug detecting mechanism," Han said.

"We know that a foreign operating system may offer back-door access to its government for surveillance or spying purposes. The situation with a Chinese operating system can be even worse if it is badly designed, because the flaws will enable not just one foreign government to access it, but many governments," Han said.

While the current government emphasis on data security is an opportunity for China's homegrown operating system developers, Han said security should not be their only focus. "What's most important is if the market welcomes it. For individual users, security is not their biggest concern. User experience, UI, hardware compatibility and the industry as a whole are more important in determining whether an operating system can succeed," he said.

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