Good news for Microsoft: China wants to dump Windows

If China makes good on its threat to break up with Windows, Microsoft could lose the battle -- yet win the war

My niece has been staring at the TV with glazed eyes, stunned by the news that Hello Kitty is -- wait for it -- not a cat. No, really. According to the schizophrenics who invented Hello Kitty, she's an anime character (that is, a child) who loves cats and has one of her own. Why does she look like a cat? Because that's how the anime 'verse rolls, and apparently, her anime parents ignored their amnio results. That's not the only news from the Far East, although in my opinion, it's by far the most mind-blowing.

The other bit of news from Asia comes out of China and is a rehash of the threat/promise/drunken joke made every few years that the Chinese government is releasing its own operating system and plans to ban Windows from every nook and cranny because Microsoft is too powerful, monopolistic, and oppressive. Sure, why not? The Chinese government is also worried that Windows has been made deliberately vulnerable to NSA spying, which is evil and wrong, and China's higher-ups would never think about doing in their own country.

[ Also on InfoWorld: The sane person's guide to the Windows XP apocalypse | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter and follow Cringely on Twitter. ]

I agree. It is evil. It is wrong. Also, the Chinese would never think about doing it in their country. They simply do it.

News sources report that the new OS will be based on Ubuntu or at least a flavor of open source Linux, so I wonder how they figure it's not full of holes. Then again, who cares?

Stop me if you think you've heard this one before

Looking back, China has been making this promise every few years since the late '90s and even released a few lackluster examples, most recently COS, a mobile OS that flopped out this past January. The Chinese government claims it's not based on open source code, but somehow it's compatible with most of the Android app library and looks suspiciously like a skin of HTC's Sense environment. One Western developer said the name should stand for "Copy Other System." Further reports show that COS is doing really well in China -- if your definition of "well" is adoption at gunpoint.

But look at it from China's perspective -- there's little downside. The development costs are probably a pittance they've forced down the throat of an in-country programming house. It doesn't matter what the OS is based on as long as it meets the following criteria:

  • It's not Microsoft.
  • It's not open to international scrutiny.
  • It's chock-full of digital surveillance vulnerabilities, aka "features," as they're known in the Forbidden City (and, to be fair, in Washington, DC).

The few Chinese citizens who actually use this platform and don't buy it to stay in their government's good graces while operating another OS when no one's watching, those schmucks are extracompromised. That's gravy. The real upside is that the OS will pressure Microsoft and other software makers to grant the Chinese price concessions -- or else!

Microsoft shrugs

In response, Microsoft is probably saying, "Or else what?" Get a Microsoft number cruncher a little drunk and he'll tell you flat out that China is one of the planet's leaders in Windows software piracy, second only to Latin America. Chinese hackers steal Windows, Office, and other packages; crack them; and make them available on China-net in massive numbers. At the same time, big Chinese businesses and government make huge sales deals with Western developers, take delivery, then never pay up.

It makes you think that the big, new Microsoft office in Shanghai might be less about new software sales and more about getting their due. Then again, Microsoft sales must be desperate to move Windows 8, even to people who might not pay for it.

Regardless, the new operating system news wilts further when you learn that China, especially the government, is still galumphing along on more than a half-billion Windows XP machines. I sure hope they ported all that app code before they deploy their Ubuntu clone. Otherwise, they'll wind up mired in Wine or owing Crossover a fortune.

Add it all up, and I doubt Satya is losing sleep over a hastily slapped-together OS based on a low-penetration Linux desktop that can't run the apps China needs it to run unless it relies on homegrown black magic or a third party. It's not exactly a game changer. If China wants to pressure Western software companies, it'd do better to stick to trade negotiations than pulling lame PR stunts -- and paying its bills every once in a while.

This article, "Good news for Microsoft: China wants to dump Windows," was originally published at Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, follow Cringely on Twitter, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

How to choose a low-code development platform