China Hopes to Unseat Apple, Microsoft, Google with Linux-Based OS

| The Back Page

GLWTChina is going to stick it to those Western tech giants dominating the Chinese desktop and mobile markets, according to a report from Xinhau. The country's communist government is backing development of a homegrown, though Linux-based, operating system to compete with Apple, Microsoft, and Google in China.

At issue is the reality that Chinese tech companies haven't developed their own operating systems that can compete with OS X, iOS, Windows, or Android. Not only does that result in billions of dollars flowing out of China (at least when piracy isn't involved), Chinese security services feel like it exposes the country to espionage from the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).

There is at least a massive dollop of irony in trying to correct these issues by "developing," or more likely skinning, an operating system based on Linux, which was envisioned by a Fin (Linux Torvalds), and further developed by coders, engineers, and hackers around the world, many of whom are in the West. That irony appears to be lost on the backers of the project inside China.

"China has more than a dozen mobile OS developers with no independent intellectual property rights because their research is based on Android," Ni Guangnan of the Chinese Academy of Engineering told the People's Post and Telecommunications News, according to the English-language Xinhua. "Our key to success lies in an environment that can help us compete with Google, Apple and Microsoft."

The first iteration of this operating system will be released in October. Reuters reported that Mr. Ni hopes it will be able to replace desktop operating systems (i.e. Windows and OS X) within two years. He wants for it to be a viable mobile operating system within five years.

Either time frame is delusional unless China clamps down on foreign technology more than it has. Putting protectionist walls in place or even outright banning Western tech products could certainly force Chinese consumers to adopt local products, but at what expense to productivity and usefulness?

Mr. Ni talks about "an environment that can help us compete with Google, Apple, and Microsoft," but from this Western boy's viewpoint, the environment that is truly needed is a culture of innovation. That culture is lacking in China in so very many ways, and it's hard to see that changing just because some government backing goes into fiddling with Linux.

China's goals with this project are quite understandable. It's ability to achieve those goals remains to be seen, but color me doubtful.

Image made with help and help from Shutterstock.

Popular TMO Stories


Lee Dronick

Unseat there, probably not here.

Bryan Chaffin

That’s correct, Lee. I made a couple of minor edits to make that more clear.

Lee Dronick

And let us not forget backdoors.


I guess this will solve the piracy problem.


Unless China requires it for local devices which is a violation of WTO rules, this OS will end up primarily as the official OS for Chinese government networks.  Which is probably the main point of the exercise really.

I would think that the fact that it’s the government-sponsored OS probably makes it undesirable for some segments of Chinese society.  Not just the political dissidents and activists but the affluent people who do not want the government gaining easy access to their financial affairs.

Lee Dronick

I suppose that they could make it an attractive price point and with some good marketing sell a lot of them in the Chinese market. Time will tell.


The average Asian consumer craves Western products. Levi’s jeans. Starbucks. American fast food restaurants, iPhones, and yes android phones too. I don’t see a local China OS doing much against that onslaught. It’s all about status.


I wonder if the source code will be available to all and sundry ?

Unless there’s something in the source code to allow the authorities to monitor their citizens, and clamp down on anti democracy groups….

My Portesuello Home

If this OS is truly sponsored by the Chinese government then it may very well be free. That should take care of the piracy problem, at least as far as the OS is concerned.


@furbies They could make the source code available except for the supposedly non-existent spy/backdoor parts, then just include those in the binary distribution.

Anyway, besides the fact that this will likely be optimized for Chinese, I wouldn’t touch it with a long pole because I don’t trust China’s government. If it were any other government (well, maybe not any) I would be happy for work to make Linux better.


That irony appears to be lost on the backers of the project inside China.

The Communist Party in China doesn’t do irony, Bryan. That requires a sense of humour. Nonetheless, the irony of developing a system at least in part to avoid espionage is thick and palpable, coming as it appears to be, from a government exposed for conducting espionage on foreign concerns and relentlessly bent on monitoring every deed, thought and word of every living soul under its domain. Orwell’s 1984 has nothing on China’s 2014.

As for the 5 year timeframe for a ‘homegrown’ solution, however much based on and indebted to foreign innovation (that has to rankle the more xenophobic of the Communist Party’s hardliners), this is perfectly feasible within China, should the Party decide to impose it. That’s the beauty of totalitarianism and single Party rule.

I suspect that they will not want to go down that road, however, at least en masse. There is a growing disenchantment amongst a younger generation, who might be pushed into subversive and ‘counter-revolutionary’ behaviour, such as smuggling in Apple and other ‘running dog’ foreign export products and expanding China’s burgeoning black market. And if they simply impose this requirement only on government underlings, that will likely only increase resentment in that sector.

Rather, one should anticipate yet more accusations of malfeasance and impropriety directed at foreign concerns that will handicap their performance in the Chinese market, while not making it unpalatable to play in that space, and permitting local companies and solutions to take advantage of those handicaps.

Log in to comment (TMO, Twitter or Facebook) or Register for a TMO account