Open-Source May Help China Curb Software PiracyBy Maria Trombly
Under pressure from the world community and from local technology companies and other industry sectors, China has started thinking about cleaning up its act.
A recent study by the International Data Corp. and the Business Software Alliance found that 90 percent of all software used in China was pirated.
Altogether, software vendors claim that they suffered $3.5 billion in losses last year due to Chinese piracy.
"Recently, the Chinese government has begun the promotion of legal software," said Shouqun Lu, chairman of the China Open Source Software Federation.
"In the past, Linux wasn't mature enough, but now the situation has changed. It still isn't a total replacement for Microsoft, but it is an additional choice for users. And the cost to purchase Microsoft products is very high. It will cost much less if you use Linux."
It takes a lot of work to do this. One hopeful sign, albeit a small one, is that China's 2004 piracy rate was two percentage points lower than in 2003, where it tied for first place in piracy rates. In 2004, China was third after Vietnam and the Ukraine.
The Chinese government has been paying attention to intellectual property rights in the area of software since 2001, said Qi Zhang, who heads the ministry's electronics and information products department.
"Everyone should use legal software," she said. "And the government is leading the way here. It signals the interest the Chinese government has in protecting intellectual property rights."
All local and county government agencies are now under government mandate to have legal copies of software installed by the end of this year, she said.
For example, the China Ministry of Railways has deployed Turbolinux operating systems in 14 railway bureaus, 230 railway stations and more than 440 package processing stations, to encourage standardization for package delivery operation and management. This initiative was the first large-scale Linux implementation by the ministry.
Given the security, reliability, and low cost of Linux deployments, Linux is making great strides in big enterprises such as railways and telecom companies, said Red Flag president Chris Zhao.
But the government is doing more than encouraging the purchase of open source products, said Zhao. "The support is also reflected in government funding, engineer training, and tax rebates," he said.
There is another national pro-Linux effort underway as well: the move to create a Chinese version of the operating system to compete with the Red Hats of the world.
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China Standard Software is part of a consortium of Chinese technology companies that have been handed a mandate by the Chinese government to develop a desktop operating system that can help bridge the digital divide to China's 1.3 billion citizens.
With government support, the consortium will help grow the Linux market in China, said China Standard Software president Naiping Han.
"If we can make the industry big enough, then we can start to reach our goal of becoming a strong and powerful part of the global software industry," Han said.