Just when I was beginning to feel upbeat about all the events and innovations going on in China this year, I see this thread from the CentOS List. The thread is not new, nor is the 'offer' being made in it. For all my years in China, I do remember the days when distros were sold for 68 RMB and all our BLUG members celebrated the active distribution of Linux software for the low cost of 68 RMB ($8 USD). Back in the day downloading ISOs was near impossible, especially for most of the local software engineering students. We thought this was a great way to get Linux into the hands of a greater number of local developers. Surely, there was no profitable way to distribute because as soon as one person got a copy they could burn one for their friends, which is acceptable considering the software was free to begin with, plus the shear size market size ensured a tidy profit for the distributor (which was nothing more than someone with a great Internet connection and a lot of discs). This selling of distros was acceptable because it got Linux into the open where everybody could see it next to the pirated copies of Windows. Back then I recall Red Hat 7.0 was by far the most popularly distributed disc.
However, when I read this thread, mind you it is 8 months old, it reminds me of how so many local companies corrupt the very value of Linux, or they simply just don't understand it. The easiest business practice to accept, but the one most quick to fail in the field of open source software is to "support" someone else's innovation. Sure the software is free and all you have to do is charge for installation and support. However, what if you don’t keep up with the project or contribute your knowledge and patches? The project either passes you by, falls apart or takes a turn your client base isn't prepared to follow. I know, because I made this foolish mistake years ago when I was launching my company, CANDIS. I followed the lead of my engineers, delivered solutions to my clients, fixed bugs and then when it came time to scale up for my client or to update their system I found that the project we used didn't evolve any further and I was left having to tell my client, "time for a new solution", which they didn't like to hear because there was a migration cost and new learning curve to take on. My actions hurt the community. Soon after this I started the BLUG and learned the errors of my way.
However strong the entrepreneurial environment in China is, it is still prone to taking short cuts and shows bravado that revels any other country, even America. I read this thread and I think, 'man 8 months ago I could log on through my ADSL connection, which costs US$11 a month and download the ISOs in about 30 minutes, as well as could every market segment this 'Entrepreneur could be targeting'. Mind you this is only one example of thousands that exist. This gentleman shows a complete misunderstanding for the community, but at least he is honest enough to seek a relationship. Maybe there is room to educate him. However, countless other companies actually sell the software, in their own packaging, and then capitalize off the installation and service fees as well.
My colleague, Richard Ford, who brought this thread to my attention, had this to say about it: Typical Chinese approach to competition, sharing and business development style... no wonder (profitable) linux companies here are scarce... – Please note the BLOG I linked Richard to will be online by March 5.