China ponders yet another homegrown OS: Report

Concerns over surveillance by the United States and its Five Eyes allies, coupled with its current monopoly probe into Microsoft, has led to China considering its own OS, according to reports.
Written by Chris Duckett, APAC Editor on

China is looking to develop its own operating system for desktop computer, and subsequently take the system onto tablets and smartphones, according to a report from Xinhua over the weekend.

The impetuses for the move were cited as being the Chinese government's decision to exclude Windows 8 from any newly procured government computers, and a lack of intellectual property rights for operating systems residing within China's boundaries; the desktop is dominated by Microsoft, with Google ruling supreme on Chinese handsets.

An antitrust probe into Microsoft by Chinese authorities is currently under way. It is looking into complaints by unnamed sources that with its use of compatibility, bundling of software, and document authentication relating to Windows, the Redmond giant had violated the Chinese anti-monopoly and antitrust laws.

Chinese media speculation at the time of the probe's initiation in July said the government inquiry was due to Microsoft removing support for Windows XP.

A homegrown Chinese operating system would not be new territory for the government, as the nation has a history of creating Linux distributions for desktop and mobile devices.

The China Operating System (COS) is a state-funded Linux platform for mobile devices. However, the code was not released under an open-source licence, due to concerns that open-source platforms were insecure and "failed to acclimatize" in the Chinese market across many aspects, including user interface, input method, speech recognition, cloud service stability, application downloads, and support.

With a large number of ex-HTC staff members developing COS, the operating system drew fire for looking like HTC's Android implementation. The Institute of Software at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which was involved in the development of COS, retorted that the whole system was developed independently, except for "some minor stuff".

Teaming up with Canonical, China helps fund Ubuntu Kylin, a version of Ubuntu designed for Chinese users, which has seen over 1 million downloads as of February 2014.

Kylin offers a full Chinese user interface, bespoke Chinese applications, and integration with domestic services, such as music search from Baidu in the dash. It also includes Kingsoft WPS, one of China's most popular office suites.

However, not every Chinese government-sponsored operating system venture meets with success.

In February, the Chinese state-funded Linux distribution, Red Flag Linux, closed down after reportedly owing its employees months in unpaid wages.

"A lack of brand awareness and sustained investments, coupled with the rise of rivals including Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise, led to its downfall," Eric Peng, Beijing-based research manager with IDC, told the South China Morning Post at the time.