Linux in China and Dot-com Growth

January 29, 2006

My blog languished while I spent the past 8 days in Hong Kong and Beijing. Sadly, my time in Hong Kong was limited to less than 48 hours for business meetings, but I was able to spend more time in Beijing. When talking to people in Beijing, most inevitably mention the tremendous growth of the city, and the traffic is reminiscent of Silicon Valley before the dot-com bust. During times of rapid population and economic growth, the infrastructure cannot keep pace with the growth of the region. Traffic jams are as much a part of daily life in Beijing as they were in Silicon Valley in 2000.

Like the proliferation of dot-com companies, China is currently experiencing a proliferation of Linux distributors. Most of these, including China Standard Software Company (CS2C), Red Flag, TurboLinux China, and Sun Wah Linux are at least in part supported by various Chinese government agencies. The Chinese government seems to be focused on encouraging the success of local Linux vendors, which helps to promote the local software ecosystem. Like during the dot-com bust, a few companies (like Google) will survive while many others will not last. We will probably see many of these local Linux vendors go out of business or merge with the strongest companies, but it is too early to do more than speculate on which ones will make the cut. Last August, there were a number of rumors about the possibility of a merger between Red Flag, TurboLinux China, and Co-Create, but we have not seen any real consolidation yet.

Linux also appears to be growing rapidly in China as many organizations replace aging Unix servers with Linux and a few governments and schools are starting to deploy Linux desktops. Earlier this month, a new Linux Certification Lab was just announced in China with support by the Free Standards Group. The growth of Linux and efforts like this certification lab highlight the importance of Linux in China. I expect to see the growth of Linux in China continue to accelerate as the local Linux vendors mature and begin to consolidate over the next year or two.


Firefox Quickly Supports New Intel Apple Systems

January 16, 2006

Within a few days of the official announcement of the early release of the new Intel Macs, Firefox has announced a late March release of the Firefox 1.5.0.2 update containing support for Intel Macs. According to the article linked below, as early as July of last year, they had initial development releases available. This is just another illustration of how quickly the open source community can support new product releases.

In addition to quick support, open source products frequently have a transparency and honesty that can be refreshing compared to the secrecy embraced by some proprietary companies. The current development release of Firefox for Intel Macs has two primary issues to be resolved before launch: compatibility issues with Flash and the need for an updated Java plugin. A user or developer can get a much better idea about whether or not a product is likely to hit the launch target when the major challenges are available along with a few details about what is being done to resolve the issues. Developers and savvy users who want to try it out a bit early can download the new version and play around with it (at their own risk, of course) if they want an early look at the product.

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Open Source Applications and Linux on the Desktop

January 14, 2006

I blogged about this before as the chicken and egg problem with desktop Linux. There are not enough people using Linux on the desktop for software vendors to port desktop apps to Linux, and there are not enough desktop applications for many people to make the switch to desktop Linux.

In the article linked below, Rosenberg suggests building on the momentum of Firefox to help drive Linux on the desktop, and I suspect that we will not see more than a small increase in Linux on the Desktop use in 2006. However, 2006 could be the year of the open source applications. The success of Firefox could lead users to begin to adopt other open source applications (OpenOffice.org, Thunderbird, etc.) As people become more comfortable with open source applications, this trend could drive a few more people to Linux on the desktop. However, we need to get over the chicken and the egg application dilemma before we will see broad adoption of Linux on the desktop for sophisticated business users with large numbers of applications.

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There Is No Open Source Community?

January 13, 2006

Here is a snippet from an ONLamp.com article titled There Is No Open Source Community.

“Some software vendors believe that open source is an ideological movement. This paradigm ignores the impact of software prices shattered by zero-cost distribution and global collaboration capabilities, both of which the internet fuels. It also ignores one of the primary factors driving customer adoption: rebellion against vendor lock-in. By combining lower cost of production with the additional freedom and flexibility endemic to open source deployments, one sees two dynamics driving both adoption and production. The push of software commoditization and the pull of customer demands have created a perfect storm for open source software.”

The article goes on to suggest that “without prices that approach zero, there is simply no room for viable open source options.” I disagree with this statement; it implies that low prices are a cause for open source success when it is more likely that the two are correlated. In fact, I suspect that open source software is helping to commoditize certain software markets, which could be driving lower prices rather than low prices driving open source. Possibly more important than low prices is that proprietary vendors are often forced to innovate above the areas that have been commoditized in order to justify their pricing structure.

Despite this bit of disagreement, this article makes some really good points.

First, global collaboration has helped fuel the success of open source software. In past blog posts, I have talked about the community element of open source, and global collaboration is a big part of most open source communities. It is amazing how quickly some open source projects are localized in various languages, and the community participation from so many people around the world with diverse backgrounds seems to encourage innovation and improve quality.

Second, rebellion against vendor lock-in is an important driver of open source. Companies want the flexibility that open source solutions provide. In some cases, open source is used by governments and companies in various countries who do not want their money to be spent making western / U.S. software companies even more powerful. See my previous blog post on Global Open Source.

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Open Source Software Revolutionizes US Patent System

January 10, 2006

This is great news, not just for open source, but for the entire software industry as a way to improve the quality of patents.

First of all, this initiative establishes open source software as prior art. It means that innovations used in open source cannot be patented by another party:

OSDL, IBM, Novell, Red Hat and SourceForge.net are developing a searchable database of open source code so patent examiners and the general public can search for prior art from the open source community when considering a patent application. Such a storage system would satisfy legal requirements for the code to qualify as prior art, IBM said.

Second, the public will be encouraged to review and provide feedback on software patents.

Finally, a patent quality index will be introduced to rate the quality of the patents.

This is a great step in the right direction for the open source ecosystem. Quite a bit of the effort from the open source community has been focused on arguing against the existence of software patents, and this initiative helps to make improvements within the existing patent system. I’m not going to get into the debate about whether or not software patents are a good idea; they do exist, and this initiative might help improve patent quality. I see this as a good thing for the software industry as a whole.

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Open Source in China

January 8, 2006

The BBC article linked below mentions that China’s biggest resource is its people. This gives China, and other countries with vibrant, emerging information technology industries, an opportunity to grow their local software ecosystem through the use of open source software. Because the source code is open for anyone to view, modify, and redistribute, China could focus on forming local, Chinese support and services organizations for open source software. Businesses in China could use MySQL, JBoss, Apache, and other software while getting updates, services and support for those applications locally. The open source communities can benefit when enhancements are contributed back to the community.

This is not just an opportunity for China. Many emerging countries could use open source software in this manner to create local jobs and nurture the local software industry.

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More on Women in Open Source

January 8, 2006

In an earlier blog post about women in open source, I talked about the huge disparity between the numbers of men vs. women involved in open source. While there are relatively few women in open source, communities are forming to bring these women together in a supportive environment. LinuxChix.org is one community “for women who like Linux and for supporting women in computing” and membership “ranges from novices to experienced users, and includes professional and amateur programmers, system administrators and technical writers.”

The beauty of online communities is that they can be easily formed to bring people with a common interest together across the globe. A few hundred years ago, we were essentially limited to local communities of people living in the same geographic area where we might be the only person in a particular occupation or with a certain interest. Due to the “magic” of the Internet, we can now collaborate with and support others with similar interests across the globe.

LinuxChix.org is just one of several online communities that exist to support other women in open source.

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