South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that use of open source was on the rise in China, which is very questionable, especially considering there is yet an open source-related company to turn a profit. Supposedly, the SCMP believes this rise will be spurred by the latest collaboration between Microsoft and Novell, which in and of itself is a laugh and shows how little educated the SCMP is on open source issues, or more to the point how this "news" would seem more like a PR statement.
Fortunately, Stephen Walli was on hand last week for a conference on open standards to put the Microsoft and Novell relationship into perspective. Stehpen explained the Microsoft and Novell relationship as one of check-and-balance. Microsoft has always been worried about Novell's operating system patents, Novell in return, since they bought Ximian and their Mono system, are concerned that Microsoft still holds patents that could surface if .Net catches on.
So, in this ongoing game, I guess it makes sense to strike a temporary compromise. However, how does this help the promotion of Linux in China, especially considering the Microsoft Linux team is called "Linux Compete".
My friends Bjorn Stabbell and Jethro Cramp, who are themselves authorities on Linux, further summed up the cross licensing agreement by saying it would NOT protect, let alone help, other Linux companies. Technically, the GPL explicitly prohibits one company that is selling GPL products from signing patent deals that protect only themselves and not other users of the same software. I think Bjorn summed it up best, "Cross-licensing may possibly protect only Novell, not other Linux vendors. It's about managing risks."
Open source companies in China can't look to the likes of IBM, SUN and Novell to bring them out of their closets through acquisition, partnerships or staunching Microsoft's growth. Chinese companies are going to have to learn to compete as their Western peers have. Chinese open source companies are going to have to learn to look beyond their own market and develop relationships abroad.
There is a need for these companies to squeeze some creative juice from the few developers they have, focus on creating value in one industry with a few core products and stop waiting for the government to throw open the doors to Linux. Chinese Linux shops are puppets for the government and need to explore new market opportunities.