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Published:July 29th, 2006 03:55 EST
China poised to become open-source industry leader

China poised to become open-source industry leader

By Ahmed Mabruk

Open-source software developers in China should invest in Linux and similar software, senior industry executives said at a Beijing conference Wednesday. Though current Chinese investment in open-source software manufacturing is relatively small, the numbers are rising. Sales of Linux in the country rose 20 percent between 2003 and 2004, and analysts predict that figure will grow 24 percent annually by 2009, with revenue topping $27 million.

“Interesting things are happening here,” said Jack Messman, chairman and chief executive officer of Novell Inc., at the Linux World Conference and Expo in Beijing. “Linux and open source provide a golden opportunity to develop this country into a global software powerhouse.”

With increased freedom to select between various vendors and technologies, Messman says both the Chinese government and corporations stand to benefit from a more active role in open-source software, and that problems in the past, like domination of the industry by powerhouse Microsoft Corp. and its Windows operating system, would be eliminated.

“Open source will solve the software monopoly problems that have annoyed the government for a long time,” Messman said. However, though the opportunity to take a global role in the industry is available to them, Chinese developers are not seizing it. China’s software companies lack connections with the international open-source community and are not using the most advanced technologies available, industry experts say.

“If China is going to grow its adoption of Linux and open source, the local developer community must be able to leverage the knowledge in the international community,” Steve McWhirter, vice president of Asia-Pacific at Red-Hat Inc., said.

He also noted that Red Hat plans to set up centers to help the company work more closely with Chinese Linux developers.

Messman also pledged to help the industry in China – to serve as a “bridge” between the country and the international open-source community. He says Novell will establish a Linux research and development center in Beijing before the year’s end, which will collaborate with Chinese software companies in developing open-source technologies for desktop Linux, software internationalization and high-performance computing.
“These three technologies have enormous market potential,” Messman said.
Telecommunications equipment vendor Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and Linux developer China Standard Software Company Ltd. have already partnered with Novell in its endeavor.

According to Martin Fink, vice president and general manager of Hewlett-Packard Co.’s Nonstop Enterprise Division, Open Source and Linux Organization, Chinese companies can also invest in the open-source industry via non-technical methods.
Fink spoke at Linux World in Beijing to petition IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. to opt for General Public Licenses in lieu of their own open-source licenses, a call he made last week at Linux World in San Francisco.

“We need to stop the proliferation of open-source licenses,” Fink said, as he cautioned that different licenses, which hinder the ability to share code between developers, could hamper the benefits of open-source software.
Fink went on to say that the GPL license needs to be updated because of technological advancements, like object-oriented programming and that China can assist in the development of version 3.0 of the GPL license by adopting it as a national standard for domestic open-source software. That license should be issued sometime in 2007.

All in all, experts say China is poised to become a global leader in the open-source software industry.
“There is a tremendous opportunity for China to play a leading role here,” Fink said.