China is making progress with its own operating system designed to replace Windows, Android and iOS. Should we be worried?
The recent demise of Windows XP and the request from the Chinese for Microsoft to spare the OS may have made China's own operating system even more desirable and relevant, to the Chinese at least. At the moment little is known about it's exact details, but news agencies report that it may be making its way to a release some time in October.
There are many reasons for China wanting a home grown OS, including security. After all of the revelations about NSA snooping, China isn't the only country considering securing its IT with home grown software. China recently banned the use of Windows 8, probably because of fears that it might contain backdoors. There is also the small matter that China felt left high and dry when Microsoft stopped supporting Windows XP, a move that made three quarters of Chinese computers open to malware.
However, there are also good commercial reasons. Most of China's mobile phone manufacturers make use of Android and, even if the OS is nominally free and open source, we all know that it is still very much Google's. An OS controlled by Chinese manufacturers makes sense. What is surprising is that there have already been a number of attempts at creating a Chinese operating system - Red Flag in 2000 eventually ran out of funds and COS China Operating System was launched as an Android replacement.
The new OS is being developed by the Chinese Academy of Engineering and it is based on Linux, but closed source, and targets both the desktop and mobile devices. Guangnan Ni, who co-founded Lenovo, made the announcement that the desktop version would be ready for use in October.
Of course, we all know that an operating system is only as useful as the applications that run under it. If the new OS is just a customized Linux then what we have is the Windows v Linux battle for the desktop, but in Chinese. If it isn't Linux compatible, the question is where does the application software come from?
You might think that this development would be worrying Microsoft in particular, but it's position is tempered by the fact that most copies of Windows and application software running in China are pirated.
Despite past failures at creating a home grown OS perhaps this time it will be different with the government backing the project because of the need to keep spies out of its IT.
China has lots of good reasons for needing a reliable, trustworthy operating system that is under its own control - but then so do we all.