ZDNet Asia blogger Frederic Muller, who has been promoting Linux in China for some time, says it's about ownership and getting credit.
I believe there is something to that. (The picture is part of a screen capture from the U.S. home page of HTC.)
Chinese businessmen today don't really bow to Mao or even Adam Smith. They take after Charles Darwin. Despite their intense competition, they are always looking for a way to differentiate themselves, to stand out, to get above the commodity rat race and have an easier time of it.
Open source does not offer that. You make a Linux box, you make the big effort to succeed with it, and your competitors can have the same box on the street the next day. On the Internet no one knows you're a dog, but in open source it's hard to tell your breed.
Ties to western companies with proprietary advantages that could assure a steady stream of orders were better business. Whether the advantage was that of a carrier, a technology or a brand mattered little. What counted was an assurance of regular checks with which to pay the bills.
Google is rapidly changing this. We talk about Google in terms of its relations with the government and its search engine, but its Android and Chromium projects have tapped into something different.
That is, Android offers the hope of proprietary advantage. Tweak Android in the right way, offer the right mix of features, and you too can become a brand name. Anyone even know who HTC was before their Android phone came out?
Chromium holds the same promise. Tweak Chromium in the right way, with the right mix of features, and you can become the next HTC. That means climbing up the value chain, becoming a brand, grabbing a bigger piece of your product's value add.
Ubuntu lacked the muscle needed to push Chinese manufacturers toward this realization. Google has it, thanks to its dominance in search. Google is a brand. Google has now proven it can build Chinese brands.
But the Chinese success with Google is only half the story. Replacing the carriers and Apple with Google won't bring Chinese manufacturers the heaven they seek.
That comes when you start digging into open source repositories, looking at software from the user's point of view, becoming their advocate, and delivering what they want, with your name on the front of the device.
Once Chinese manufacturers realize that open source can give them independence, not only from Apple but from Google and every other foreign entity, China will embrace open source.