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How Microsoft Beat Linux In China 313

Posted by kdawson
from the always-did-know-the-value-of-being-the-standard dept.
kripkenstein notes an analysis up on TechRepublic detailing how Microsoft beat Linux in China, and the consequences of that victory: "With the soon-to-be largest economy standardized on Windows desktops, desktop Linux does seem to have an uphill battle ahead of it." "Linux has turned out to be little more than a key bargaining chip in a high stakes game of commerce between the Chinese government and the world's largest software maker... The fact that... Linux failed to gain a major foothold in China is yet another blow to desktop Linux. After nearly eight years of being on the verge of a breakthrough, Linux seems more destined than ever to be a force in the server room but little more than a narrow niche and an anomaly on the desktop."
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How Microsoft Beat Linux In China

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  • Big Picture (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kripkenstein (913150) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @04:35PM (#20025875) Homepage
    Let's look at the big picture here of Microsoft monopolizing the Chinese desktop market. The US trade deficit with China is $233 billion. If, in several years, there are (say) 1 billion computers in China, and each pays $100 for Microsoft products (Windows, Office, OneCare, who knows what else by then), then Microsoft will be responsible for $100 billion going in the opposite direction than the $233 billion. That is, Microsoft's income from China will be about the same order as that of the entire trade deficit.

    (Of course there are many assumptions and guesses here - I don't think this is a serious economic prediction. But it does show the general idea.)

    Two conclusions:
    • There is massive motivation for the US government to bolster Microsoft in any way possible. Don't expect any antitrust lawsuits in the US any time soon.
    • China's adoption of Microsoft products may be temporary. Other nations have done it in the past - adopt Western ways, modernize their economies using them, and then replace those technologies with their own (e.g., Japan and the auto market). China sees Microsoft as the quickest way to modernize their computer industry. But, especially as a central authoritative government, they can change strategy later on, when the 'Microsoft Tax' becomes a burden.
  • Why does it matter? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by superphreak (785821) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @04:38PM (#20025907) Homepage
    What does it matter to people if Linux isn't accepted as a "desktop norm"? I know there's the MS-hate/defeat-the-top-dog attitude, but other than that... what? Is somebody going to make big money if Linux takes off? Sure, you could argue pretty convincingly that botnets/zombie pcs would drop off significantly, but I would think that it would be a whole lot easier to educate people a bit on MS/Windows security than to get them to switch to Linux. Why does this keep coming up as a big deal?
  • by tsa (15680) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @04:40PM (#20025923) Homepage
    From TFA: Microsoft has made it easy for Chinese users to purchase legal copies by offering a $3 Windows/Office bundle to Chinese students.

    I wouldn't be surprised if they still make a profit even at that low price.
  • by HitekHobo (1132869) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @05:05PM (#20026155) Homepage
    I'm going to have to disagree with that. Overall, yes, MS makes money from their products - that's what companies do.

    They have pretty well set the desktop standard and pretty much anyone that uses a computer can sit down at most any workstation and accomplish a task. That is a hell of a benefit. Unfortunately, it comes with a monopoly that makes it harder for other OS vendors to enter the market.

    Personally, I've been running linux and bsd machines for the past 10 years. Everybody is running their own desktop that a majority of people don't know how to use without a bit of fiddling. There's nothing wrong with that, but moving towards ubiquitous computing, we need a) better interfaces and b) standardized interfaces or we'll just get confused by the multitude of UI's out there.

    Until everyone can carry around their own UI chip that interfaces with the surrounding hardware, MS's monopoly and their desktop standardization have at least one benefit that we can't currently get from OSS.

    Additionally, lots of OSS copies from MS on interfaces, software and protocols. I'm not saying MS hasn't ripped off their fair share of ideas, but the street does go both ways.

    This may be the least negative thing I've ever said about MS.
  • Desktop Ready NOW (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Werrismys (764601) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @05:52PM (#20026551)
    Linux has been 'Desktop Ready' for at least 10 years now. It's the applications, not the desktop. Functionally, KDE and Gnome have been on par with Winblows since KDE2 days.

    99% of Windows users don't know how to use Windows, at all. Really. They just know the couple of APPLICATIONS they use, and how to launch them.

    Example: I had just this week to teach a windows user how to remove entries from boot loader menu. He had to reinstall windows and the reinstall process partially borked, like it usually does.

    It was like 'start a command prompt' (+long explanation), change file attributes on boot.ini in C: root (+long explanation), launch text editor (+explanation), toggle back file permissions - oops I mean attributes... and boot and pray.

    How this was any easier than modifying GRUB config escapes me.

    'Readiness' and 'Intuitiviness' do not equal familiarity.

  • by cpghost (719344) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @06:22PM (#20026771) Homepage

    Why would that be impossible? Technically, it's quite feasible:

    • The COFF-PE format is well documented, so a dynamic linker for that is trivial to write in a clean-room environment. Probably been done already.
    • The Win32 API is stable and well documented as well, so wrapping it in an emulation library is also easy. Been done in the Wine project.
    • A registry is nothing more than a little database: implement it anyway you like, e.g. with flat files, with a DB server, SQLite etc... and provide hooks in the supporting emulation libraries.
    • Other Windows idiosyncraties are similarly relatively easy to duplicate / emulate.

    The real problem is not as much technical as it is legal / red-tape: the APIs are copyrighted by Microsoft, and some stuff is almost certainly patented as well. So any emulation that we can come up with will necessarily by encumbered in some way. This is completely different from FreeBSD's Linuxulator, which doesn't suffer from legal interoperability problems (and which was MUCH easier to write and maintain since the mapping between both very similar systems is almost trivial).

  • by SerpentMage (13390) <ChristianHGross@nospaM.yahoo.ca> on Saturday July 28, 2007 @06:31PM (#20026845)
    Give the man a cigar!

    I have gone through the Microsoft era, Unix era, Open Source era, Java era, and so on. YES I am a gray beard like the original grand parent poster. And if there is one thing that Microsoft has learned and keeps on propagating is that you can make money with Microsoft. This is not something to treat lightly.

    I will give you another example; AutoCad. They are essentially the last standing CAD software. Yes there are others, but none as popular as AutoCad. Why? Well one reason is that you could copy it. BUT another bigger reason was that from day 1 AutoCad could be extended so that you could add value to AutoCad. AutoCad created an environment where people could prosper and thus secured their place in history.

    Open Source did get one thing right in that they solved problems that people were having. Open Source did not focus on features. What Open Source got wrong is making money for people. The environment around Open Source is a cheapskate environment. Redhat offered Fedora because people stopped buying Redhat Linux. People did not buy software, and to this day still don't buy software. You have more people using for free than adding to the ecosystem, and that hurts!

    Yes there are big companies using and supporting Linux. BUT add together the economies around Microsoft and I would not hesitate to use trillions of dollars. First you have Microsoft, then you have people selling software for Windows, then you have consultancies supporting Windows, then you have custom coders for Microsoft, then you have conferences, then you have trainers, etc, etc. It is an incredibly HUGE ecosystem that is profitable for everybody involved.

    If you look at the latest incomes of the Open Source vendors it is down right disappointing after a decade of potential. For crying out loud Ubuntu is the result of a guy who made his money with something else and is supporting Ubuntu because he wants to have fun!

    If Linux and Open Source REALLY want to beat Microsoft, then Open Source folks should STOP BEING DAMM CHEAPSKATES! I am sure everybody is capable of forking over 50 USD per year. If we use a conservative number of 1 million users world wide that would mean 50 million dollars income and that would mean a heck of a lot programmers could be hired to solve those darn user interface problems!

    Do I buy and support software? Absolutely, as a matter of principle because I earn my money from software.
  • by Anarke_Incarnate (733529) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @07:33PM (#20027277)
    Except this year, they changed how they book those sales. In the past, they would spread 1/3 of the profits out over 3yrs. This year, they changed that to booking 100% of the profit at the time of the sale. Time will tell how this pans out, but it does not look like the moves of a strong company that is comfortable in its profit potential.
  • by EjectButton (618561) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @08:42PM (#20027729)
    Microsoft attempted a strategy of lowering prices for Windows/Office while pushing for anti-piracy action from the Chinese government. These efforts failed, repeatedly, and the end result according to this article is that Microsoft will sell Windows AND Office, combined for a price of $3.

    If that if a victory I can't imagine what a defeat would look like. If they are going to get $3 per copy of Windows+Office Microsoft would be lucky to break even on the raw materials, packaging, and shipping. The thing is Microsoft can't afford to just break even, they have tens of thousands of employees, including many lawyers and accountants and sales people involved in pushing their products, plus the support staff for all of those employees. And for those that would say "well Microsoft is sitting on a huge war chest" this is correct, they aren't going to go out of business any time soon, but they also can't bleed money indefinitely and watch potential revenue streams dry up without their stock tanking.

    It looks like their game plan in China is to sell their software at break even or a loss just to get people used to the idea of paying for it and hopefully maintain market share. I guess they could make a profit in 5-10 years assuming:
    people in china get used to the idea of paying for their software AND they have the money to pay more in the future AND they are willing to do so AND a suitable alternative (desktop Linux) hasn't risen in popularity. Which to me sounds more like a pipe-dream than a game plan.

    I wish Microsoft many more of these sorts of "victories" in the future. Though their shareholders may feel differently.
  • by twitter (104583) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @08:46PM (#20027751) Homepage Journal

    Yeah MS is in such deep trouble they made record profits this year.

    In an inflationary economy, every year is a record. Vista and Office 2007 should have made a difference but did not [theregister.co.uk]. Imagine a flat line, your brain and your balls are dying but non free CPR takes six years. The game is over - without money, they can't attract the programmers and vendor "support" they need to make product, and without product they will run out of money.

  • China's interests (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Geof (153857) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @09:32PM (#20028045) Homepage

    Being dependent on an outside source of software and putting their infrastructure in the hands of a western company are both unappealing. This was the original impetus for Red Flag Linux itself.

    You're absolutely right, both about the motivations and benefits of maintaining independece from Microsoft. However, I have a suspicion that to the government hierarchy in China (and equally for many corporations everywhere), free and open source software may also appear to be outside their control. It's an alien form of organization to them, one not amenable to the forms of influence to which they are accustomed. In that vein, the interests of China are not identical with the interests of the people making the decision. Microsoft may be able to offer them inducements, while the FOSS community will offer them nothing.

    These days, the Chinese government is in the business of making deals with corporations; they may be betting that their power is sufficient to guarantee their interests. Given the recent phenomenon of corporations "going along to get along" in China, they may be right. Eric Raymond's remark (from the TechRepublic article) that "any 'identification' between the values of the open-source community and the repressive practices of Communism is nothing but a vicious and cynical fraud" points to a risk - China's influence on Linux might have been anything but positive, either symbolically or in practice. We may have dodged a bullet. China, on the other hand, may have lost an opportunity to address (at least in a small way) its tragic situation.

  • China's Tragedy (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Geof (153857) on Saturday July 28, 2007 @10:14PM (#20028363) Homepage

    they're both run by evil dictators

    China is so complicated and so tragic. The control of the central government there is weakening. Much of the evil in China is a consequence of that loss of control. Recently, for example, up to 53,000 slave workers [opendemocracy.net] were discovered in the brick industry Shanxi province. That's 50,000 pepole in one industry in one province. The central government doesn't want this. Nor does it sanction the kidnapping and mutilation of children used as beggars, or the sale of women in the countryside or any of the many other terrible things that happen in a country encompassing over a fifth of the word's population.

    What do you do if you have political power in a place like China? Do you try to further weaken the control of the central government? Or do you try to work within the system? There aren't a lot of alternatives in a system that does not permit other power bases and where capitalism appears to be in its most destructive, dynamic, and materialistic phase. This is a place where one of my first impulses on arriving in Beijing a decade ago was that the pollution was so bad that cleaning the air was more important than democracy. I can't bring myself to blanket the human beings running China with the label "evil". Some of them, I'm certain, are heroes.

    The government has lost the moral authority of Communist ideology, so it's trying to leverage nationalism without letting it get out of control. China has a deep-seated sense of historical wrong, a memory of millenia when it was the only civilized place in the world, and an insecurity about the disrespect of the West that wronged it (and don't doubt that our ancestors did). China makes me very sad, but it also scares the hell out of me. If it collapses, watch out: the first half of the 20th century saw the horrors of a fragmented out-of-control China. Right now, I fear it looks at least a little bit like pre-war Germany.

  • by thegnu (557446) <thegnu AT gmail DOT com> on Saturday July 28, 2007 @10:44PM (#20028589) Journal
    That is exactly the problem with Linux. It's always almost ready dor the desktop. And it will always stay that way as long as there isn't a standard interface and and a good office suite that does MS' .doc format. Sad but true.

    I think that with Linux completely or partially taking over in govt in Peru, Brazil, France, Largo (right around the corner from me in St Pete, FL), the Dept of Transportation (or the FAA?), etc, it's doing pretty well.

    I have more and more people ask me about Linux. My mother runs Linux, and my friend Brian got an old Thinkpad for 5 dollars (stellar deal, because the screen's screwy) that runs Ubuntu just fine. The shop I used to work at, two years ago, the guy (an IIS-using, Access-loving, Windows-recommending motherfucker if I ever met one) was adamant about not offering Linux to customers. Now, he's set up a few laptops for his kids on Ubuntu, and shocked at how good it is, always has an Ubuntu machine available for sale. The Internet Cafe I worked at in Mexico now has systems running Linux, and will install it on people's PCs.

    Sure, Linux has been "on the verge of a breakthrough" for 8 years. Has the Desktop experience been better than decent? Not really. Has it been cohesive? Nope. Has it been easy enough for a regular middle-ager to use without suffering major breakdown? No way. It depends on how you define "the verge," and I have to say that NOW Ubuntu 7.04 fulfills all of the above for an average person with fair problem solving ability, and who is willing to use the Ubuntu n00b forum.

    There is NO reason for the average home user to install a completely new OS they've never seen. The hurdle for Linux is to get on enough work PCs that people are relatively comfortable enough with it, so that next virus they get, or next Norton Death Knell, they leap off their burning Windows install onto something stable.
  • Re:Uphill battle (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 29, 2007 @12:19AM (#20029175)
    Let's slow down here and look at just what a control freak like the Chinese government would want. When one does so, one will realize that the Chinese would not really want a system that is infinitely malleable like linux in the total hands of the common people of China. For its own defense network, using Windows is suicide, as what happened to Iraq in both 1992 and 2003 will attest when window's hidden virii were activated against Iraqi systems on orders from micros$$$. This will go down as the only time in history when a private corporation defeated a sovereign government in war. What is sad is that so few realize the truth and the enormity of that event, and the secrecy under which it is probably held. No, privately if not publicly China will never commit its real systems even to window's access much less control. As a control of the masses, however, a closed system like windows that can have it's source code known to and manipulated by the organs of that control like the Chinese have accomplished almost without cost by playing micro$ for a sucker is the ideal system for use by a soulless totalitarian government like China. In this manner China solves its perceived problem of proliferation of free interpersonal and private communication by ordinary Chinese citizenry in their assigned quarters or in the illusory anonymity of internet 'cafes'. It simply foists its manipulated version of window$ upon them by force of arms and the police power of the state. China knows the power of free software. It will reserve this for its military and police control computer systems, which will remain or become solely linux and opaque to window$ poison. However, this raises another danger. The window$ product manipulated by the Chinese government could become the new product sold by micro$ to the rest of the world!!? Did micro$ negotiate additional secret terms in its 'deal' with China, in that micro$ will now provide back doors to Chinese intelligence to systems that micro$ sells around the world to other nations and peoples? Will Chinese virii now silently inhabit new window$$ systems sold to defense systems belonging to potential enemies of China including the United States? Will these virii be remotely controlled by Chinese military commanders to, for example, incapacitate critical defense systems of the United States military foolishly controlled by window$$ systems provided probably under the new secret portions of this agreement?
  • Re:Uphill battle (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 29, 2007 @01:52AM (#20029643)
    Exactly! Linux started out in 1991. At that time, no one had heard of it. There wasn't much software for it (gnu and X yes, but not much of a kernel yet, and not a lot of desktop apps). Major software vendors came out with big stuff in 1995, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2005, and 2007. Linux currently has more than 80% of the top500 supercomputers in the world (including all of the top 10). Its use has grown continuously since 1991. The growth is continuing. It isn't slowing down. This is the first year in its history that there are more software developers for Linux than for microsoft (published by Gartner, et. al). Ubuntu started up 2 years ago to be the first 'really desktop oriented' Linux. Dell started shipping Linux on their machines for the first time this year (less than 6 months ago), and so far they are really happy. HP is kicking the tires. The question gets raised again and again "why isn't Linux here yet...?" Well it is here on my machine. What are you waiting for?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 29, 2007 @02:55AM (#20029959)
    And let me say, first, that MS obviously has a very strong position in the desktop market here. Windows is at least as ubiquitous here as it is in the States. But why would it ever be any other way? MS has millions of dollars to play with, cozy/exploitative relationships with most makers of PC's here, and a huge base of GAMES to draw Chinese users in. Chinese people love their video games, and 70% of internet users here are online for games (I got that from Harper's, I think...).

    Not to mention the fact that business in China is a cultural obsession here, like movies in LA or food in France. This makes Bill Gates, Richest Man on Earth, everyone's Cowboy/Doctor/Rockstar/Boyfriend, and creates a lot of goodwill towards MS products.

    Anyway, Linux was never going to emerge as a majority operating system in China for the same reason that it's had problems in the US- it's not coming pre-installed on most people's systems. MS cut a deal with the PRC and, in return for givin' up the code, got broad market access. They probably had to grease wheels, too, but again, they've got the money to do it.

    Chinese nerds I talk to like Linux because it (potentially) can be hardened against government intrusion, but the average Ah Q takes intrusion for granted and would rather play WOW. All the issues that get American FOSS advocates' thongs in a twist are in operation over here- pervasive censorship, domestic spying, code piracy, plutocratic monopolists upsetting markets by fiat.

    What's hopeful about Linux and the OSS movement over here is the potential for the technology to circumvent all the meddling. I mean, plain ol' HTML has been incredibly disruptive to the government's media control, and technologies like Tor potentially allow any Chinese citizen to read any Taiwanese newspaper. It's had a huge impact on issues like environmental awareness, minority and gay and lesbian rights, local corruption, and development issues.

    So what I'm saying is, there's actually a huge demand for Linux in China, but the technical hurdles are probably too great, and the awareness too small, for it to be more than a niche technology right now. This is coupled with the very poor state of technical education in China. While it does have first-class technical universities, many, many more schools offering computer-science degrees are simply cookbook factories, teaching students how to operate specific pieces of MS software. If desktop Linux isn't catching on in the US, it's not catching on in China for the same reasons.

    The breakthrough will be a secure Ubuntu-like OS with excellent/perfect Chinese character support in the style of ABC, that's "underground" enough to convince the average guy that it's not somehow corrupted by the government. (In Beijing, many people prefer wonky-looking newspapers over slick ones, because it's a sign that they aren't controlled/funded/corrupted by the government, rightly or wrongly.)

    Who knows if this combination is even possible? If it is, it will need an excellent team of designers to tune the user experience, and some serious guerrilla marketing.
  • by that this is not und (1026860) on Sunday July 29, 2007 @10:29AM (#20031839)
    Yes. Gambling casinos. Tobacco companies....
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 29, 2007 @08:56PM (#20036855)
    There are two main problems, I believe: one is the widespread view that the GPL is a great idea. The other is the lack of view of many projects.

    I agree with you that the major problem is really the "cheapskate attitude." But I think that problem has very much been caused by the FSF and the GPL license.

    It's entirely possible to take a *BSD distribution and turn it into something tailored to specific needs. For instance, you could sell a FreBSD desktop tailored to a specific firm. I'm talking about selling the finished product. You can't tailor stuff like this with Linux and make money. You gotta share your code. This might be fine for some, but in some places, if government is the big buyer then you get corruption and only the ones with connections strike the deals. Do you want to work my ass off on some hardcore algorithm so that Mr. Connection takes my code and strikes a big government deal? No. Fuck that.
    Besides, there are markets where you just can't survive with Linux,unless you are a big corporation. Yeah, embedded Linux works for cellphones. Like cellphones companies profit from Linux...If you make the hardware then Linux is good for you. Otherwise...Any third-party contractor is "distribution." It means you are generally on your own. Or you're a big company. That's the reality right now.

    The reason people should contribute to a project is because it makes sense. Because it's rational. FSF/GNU, on the other hand, are moralists. They just spread this philosophy about "stealing code." How do you steal fom a free software code base? It's just information that gets copied. It makes no sense.

    Plus, there are problems with the desktops. Which desktop should you use? KDE or GNOME? GNOME is badly done, I think that might be the general opinion. GNOME is slow, at least by comparison with lowly machines running Windows XP. On FreeBSD GNOME is slow. KDE needs you to get a Qt license. Sure, you can do that. But Windows has C, VB, C++, Excel plug-ins, C#, even F# now. The lack of design principles in free software really shows...For the GNOME guys, almost everything is C.
    At least there's Java (I don't think Mono can be compared to Java). But look, for instance, at OpenBSD: I don't think they care to have an official Java release like FreeBSD. A widespread problem.

    Also, there's the NIH syndrome: OpenOffice.org and the myriad other ones that don't work properly and I don't even mean with Microsoft documents. I mean in the same way you can merge any Microsoft component into a workflow framework. I see people doing this all the time. This is the integration and ecosystem you were talking about, I believe.

    So, actually, the problem runs much deeper. While Windows is pushing new language technology, Unix die-hards are lagging behind and creating *difficult* ecosystems. All they know and all they care about is what they know and care about. Ontop of that, a moralist philosophy that really only benefits people in their parent's basements or big corporations.

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