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Taiwan mandates Linux-ready PCs

Government requires future desktop PCs to be compatible with Linux, but is not pushing for the open-source operating system to be installed.

update Taiwan has mandated that all PCs purchased for government use must now be compatible with the Linux operating system.

According to media reports, the new requirement came into effect last month, marking the start of efforts to boost adoption of open-source software in Taiwan. About 120,000 new desktop PCs acquired by the Taiwan government will have to comply with the new mandate, the reports stated.

The Central Trust of China, Taiwan's government procurement agency, has commissioned the Taipei Computer Association (TCA) to ensure that bids from PC vendors include equipment that are compatible with Linux. So far, about 33 desktop PC models from Acer, Asustek, Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard, have been certified Linux-compatible by the TCA, reported Taiwan's Chinese language newspaper, Economic Times.

It is not known, however, if the certification process involves any specific Linux distributions such as Red Hat and Novell.

Goh Seow Hiong, director of software policy at Business Software Alliance (BSA) in Asia, noted: "There are many different distributions of Linux, and the intention may not be to ensure that every variant of Linux would be supported."

"Perhaps the certification may be [awarded based on] more specific criterion such as the Linux Standards Base (LSB), which is easier to verify for compliance," he told ZDNet Asia. "Otherwise, very few computers will be able to meet the requirement." The LSB is a set of common standards established by the Free Standards Group to enhance interoperability across Linux distributions and applications.

Fewer choice, increased cost
While the Taiwan government is not mandating, for now, that its PCs must run on Linux, Goh said the new hardware requirement might reduce choice and increase cost for the government.

He noted that it might potentially be more expensive to acquire hardware that are compliant, and exclude PCs that can be used in non-Linux environments.

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"If the policy is intended to cut costs in IT expenditure, the government should stay technology and brand neutral," Goh said. "It should avoid targeting specific areas or brands, as policies would always lag behind industry trends."

Such policies, he added, would intervene in an otherwise free and competitive market.

But Harish Pillay, manager of partner development at Red Hat Asia Pacific, disagrees. He noted that the new requirement is a "great move" that would foster a more competitive PC market in Taiwan.

"Right now, it's not a level-playing field because of the lack of device drivers for Linux," he said, adding that the mandate would compel hardware vendors to ensure their products work well with Linux. This will also expand the options available to those who do not want to be locked in to a single vendor.

Richard Stallman, president of the Free Software Foundation, wrote to ZDNet Asia applauding the Taiwan government's mandate.

He said: "Taiwan's government has made a wise decision in requiring new computers to be capable of running GNU/Linux, a free operating system which the state is free to copy and install. Switching to GNU/Linux is a way to regain control of the state's own computing."

"The state exists for the sake of the citizens, and does its computing on their behalf. It must never allow the control over its computers to fall into the hands of a private party," he added.

Late last year, Taipei Times reported that Taiwanese legislators passed a resolution that called for a 25 percent cut, across all government agencies, in the procurement budget set aside specifically for Microsoft products--which they claimed were too expensive.

But Goh noted that the cost of IT includes both hardware and software. "If there is a need to cut cost, why target only software? Hardware costs are equally significant, and neither would be of any use without the other," he said.

A Microsoft spokesperson told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview, that the software giant respects the Taiwanese government's decisions, but called for neutral procurement policies that promote fair competition in a free market.