chinaopensource.jpgA supporter of open-source software managed to take the spotlight away from the bazillion dollar man, Bill Gates, during the Windows creator’s visit to Beijing yesterday.

The unidentified man waited until Billy was finished congratulating some students at Beijing University, and then stormed the stage brandishing a sign stating: “Free Software, Open Source”

I saw this one first at Ya, I Yee, and read further about it in the Shanghai Daily and Associated Press accounts.

As might be guessed by this site’s use of WordPress and Joomla, and a number of other behind-the-scenes open-source projects (including Pligg for the Hao Hao Report) – I’m a huge open-source concept supporter.

There’s a lot of debate in intellectual property circles on the value of the open source concept, and some of it justified. However, I feel it offers a lot of advantages over traditional (keep the code secret) software. The biggest has to be that when you open up a project to a global community, you are not limited by the brain-pool of your staff. This is well illustrated by the growth of Mozilla Firefox popularity.

Though Internet Explorer still holds the lion’s share of the market (largely due to net-naivety and it being included with Windows), Firefox usage is growing exponentially, and has been the defacto industry leader (in terms of design, standards compliance and usability) for some time.

In China, Internet Explorer still leads the pack, but the (relatively unknown outside of China) Maxthon is pulling up second with 30% of the market share. Though not strictly an “open-source” concept, the made-in-China browser was founded on the same principles (read more about Maxthon).

The fact that the Chinese are quite loyal to the IE way of things, and that Maxthon is built around the IE engine, it’s no surprise that Chinese Web design practices centre around the Microsoft product, rather than going with standards compliant browsers. This can sometimes cause issues when viewing Chinese sites in anything other than IE.

Ok, I got a bit off topic there, but all this is to say that open source adoption in an increasingly tech-savvy population the size of China is going to create some excellent communities with some even more excellent results. Fittingly, the principles of open source are very communistic in nature – not the Maoist “put the uneducated farmer in head office” type of communism, but more the socialistic “we’ve all something to give, something to gain” branch.


  1. You didn’t say it so I will be the jerk to add that since the Chinese refuse to pay of ANYTHING, open source is a great thing for them.

    Having said that, I work at a first tier tech uni in Beijing and when I asked my grad students about open source and Linux, most turned up their noses and said, “Why use that when we can get Windows for free.”

  2. I would read more into the fact that Microsoft might be getting just a little bit afraid of the “new” Chinese kid on the block – Red Flag Linux. Well to be honest it is hardly new, but it has a decent market share in China.

    Huge government contracts have been handed out to Open Source projects like this in the past and to be honest I think Microsoft is after a piece of that pie.

  3. Sean,

    If you read what I wrote I mentioned Red Flag, not Red Hat. Two completely different companies.

    I’m a software engineer myself, I develop purely in a Linux environment. I have many Chinese colleagues who also develop in a Linux environment. You honestly cannot be getting out much in the field if you don’t see Software development on Linux/Unix machines.

    By the way, Red Flag started in June 2000 and is apparantley the largest Linux company in China.

    Red Hat started in the early 90’s. I’ve developed on Red Hat myself, I personally prefer Debian to be honest!

  4. Valehru: My bad on the Hat/Flag thing. Sorry

    Seriously though I work at Beihang and we do not have a single computer set up on a linux framework in the grad level software Engineering Dept/

    I do not pretent to be an expert, it is just an observation. I will add though that I think the students this university is putting out are intellegent, but not really the cutting edge types. Mostly Windows wannabes. Most of them dream of working for good ol Bill.

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