Government-Microsoft Deal Could Hamper Development of Homegrown Operating Systems, Academic Warns

Photo: Visual China

U.S. technology giant Microsoft Corp.’s joint venture to provide a customized version of its latest operating system to Chinese government agencies will hamper efforts to reduce the country’s reliance on foreign technology and put national security at risk, a top academic warned.

“Opening up doesn’t mean opening up without conditions,” said Ni Guangnan, a scholar at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, at a technology summit in Beijing on Thursday. “Some industries can never be made available” to foreign companies, he added.

Chinese companies will never be able to master the core technology needed to develop an operating system under a partnership with Microsoft, Ni said.

Ni has a track record of being an advocate for a China-made operating system and central processing units. In 2014, he headed a government-backed team to develop a homegrown operating system, according to People’s Post and Telecommunications News, a paper affiliated with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. But it is not clear whether this software was ever rolled out.

Ni’s latest warning came a month after Microsoft agreed to cooperate with China Electronics Technology Group Corp., a state-owned enterprise (SOE), to develop a customized version of Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system for government institutions and SOEs.

The U.S. tech giant won the deal two years after China banned the use of Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system on government computers after the company stopped providing security updates and technical support for its then-13-year-old Windows XP operating system. At the time, the official Xinhua News Agency said the ban was to ensure computer security.

Ni, a computer engineer who is credited with developing an input system for Chinese characters and is a co-founder of the precursor to Lenovo Group Ltd., said in 2014 that the antivirus software incorporated into the Windows 8 operating system could be used to scan content and monitor users’ activities, the state-run China Daily newspaper reported at the time.

The decision to ban the use of Microsoft products also came at a time when academics and senior government officials, including President Xi Jinping, were advocating companies to develop “autonomous and controllable” technologies.

“We should be self-assured to promote the ‘autonomous and controllable’ campaign,” said Ni, referring to the movement started since 2013, adding that the internet and telecommunication industries in the U.S. are dominated by American companies.

“The plan to replace foreign businesses is not only for security reasons. It is also valid from the perspective of dismantling the market monopoly and reducing costs,” he said.

In recent years, the government has pushed for the development of homegrown IT products to reduce the country’s dependence on foreign technology. These efforts intensified after former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed in 2013 that the U.S. government had a technological “back door” that allowed them access to the databases of at least nine major U.S. internet companies.

While Chinese companies have managed to develop several Linux-based operating-system alternatives in the past few years, none of them has managed to grab a significant share in the market. Zhongke Hongqi, the developer of the Hongqi, or “Red Flag,” operating system, filed for bankruptcy in 2014. Last year, Dell reportedly preloaded more than 40% of its commercial PCs in China with an operating system called NeoKylin, which was co-developed by several Chinese companies and the government. But a salesperson at Dell told Caixin that the company has stopped selling those computers. The reason behind Dell’s decision to stop installing NeoKylin on its computers or when this decision was made is unclear.

Microsoft’s Windows series controlled nearly 95% of the Chinese operating system market in 2015, according to industry watcher StatCounter. Some government agencies such as the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, the country’s top prosecutor’s office, still uses the outdated Windows XP software, an employee at the agency told Caixin. Other government institutions — for example, the State Administration of Taxation’s provincial bureau in Fujian province — provide employees with computers installed with Windows 7, which is also outdated, an employee said.

[Source:-Caixin Online]