Tuesday, September 10, 2013

But when will we get the Red Stripe operating system?

Continuing in my "I am not trendy" ways, I must confess that I did not hear about the Red Flag operating system until 14 years after its release.

But I have an excuse.

Back in the early 2000s, I was managing a product that was (and is) export controlled. Under those circumstances, the last thing that we'd want to do would be to include a Chinese operating system as part of the product bill of materials.

So I was blissfully ignorant of the Red Flag operating system, but Doc Searls was not:

Red Flag Linux first appeared in August 1999, when it was created by the Institute of Software at the Chinese Academy of Sciences....[T]he purpose of Red Flag was to reduce domination of the Chinese computer market by Microsoft's Windows operating systems....

The Chinese government doesn't just bristle at Microsoft's near-absolute market share of PC operating systems sold in China. It's as uncomfortable with operating systems that are opaque to the core. As a matter of routine, it is the custom of Customs to ask "what's in there?" And the routine answer from Microsoft is "none of your business." To a government concerned with security, that isn't always an acceptable answer.

It's always good to look at the perspectives of others. From my "Commies are evil" frame of mind, I'd be wondering what the Chinese would be putting in their operating system. It shouldn't be surprising to realize that the Chinese were equally concerned about what the Americans were putting in "their" operating system, even though the U.S. government can't control what private software companies do...uh, scratch that.

A few years later, Chinese efforts to promote Red Flag Linux met some success.

Currently [in 2007], the government is responsible for purchasing accounts for more than one quarter of China's Linux desktop software market, and the homegrown Red Flag Linux leads the government market.

Unfortunately, there were also some challenges.

Despite its rapid growth, China's Linux desktop software industry faces some problems. Piracy is still an issue. Using pirated Windows can be easier and cheaper than using a Linux desktop OS. Zhen Zhongyuan, vice president of Red Flag, says that China's Linux desktop market would increase as a "geometric series" every time piracy decreases 1%.

So in this case, piracy was not only hurting the foreign (American) operating system provider, but was also hurting the domestic Chinese providers who couldn't compete with the free operating systems.

To me, the whole idea of a national operating system is fascinating. It's entirely possible that the United States itself could come up with its own national operating system...oh wait, we have:

Outside of the U.S., there are several "national" Linux distributions. These include China's Red Flag Linux; Turkey's Pardus, and the Philippines' Bayahnian....But, there hasn't been a national American Linux desktop distribution... until now [2011].

The Software Protection Initiative (SPI) under the direction of the Air Force Research Laboratory and the US Department Of Defense recently created Lightweight Portable Security (LPS). Like the name indicates, this is a small Linux desktop distribution that's designed for secure use.

So now we just have to wait for the Jamaican technology community to launch a Red Stripe distribution to compete with Red Hat and Red Flag.
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