Open Source's Next Steps

Last month, Fortune magazine ran an interesting article about how Microsoft got its groove on in the massive Chinese market by striking deals with China's government and how Microsoft's success in China appears to be coming at the expense of Linux and open-source software.

The Fortune article points specifically to China's homegrown Red Flag Linux distribution, but when I read the story, my thoughts turned instead to Sun Microsystems' ill-fated deal with the Chinese government to deploy as many as 200 million Linux-based PCs in the country. The deal promised to be a major coup for Linux and for Sun, and then-Sun chief Scott McNealy noted that the agreement would make Sun the world's largest Linux player. Instead, Sun chose to change course relatively quickly, dropping its Linux-based JDS (Java Desktop System) as a product altogether and getting back to work on Solaris.

Even if Sun hadn't ditched its desktop ambitions, Microsoft was ready to make the Chinese government an offer it wouldn't want to refuse. Microsoft agreed to pony up its source code for review, accept an average $7 of revenue per PC (versus $100 to $200 apiece elsewhere), look the other way on software piracy and participate in China's efforts to curb online dissent.

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