Research and Advances
Computing Applications

Asian Trio’s Adoption of Linux-Based Open Source Development

Three Asian economic heavyweights—China, Japan, and South Korea—join IT forces.
  1. Introduction
  2. The Driving Forces
  3. Implications
  4. Conclusion
  5. References
  6. Authors

In September 2003, the Asian trio of China, Japan, and South Korea (CJK) announced an initiative to promote open source software and platforms that favor non-Microsoft products such as Linux. The agreement was disclosed during the IT ministers’ conference held in South Korea. In all, the countries agreed upon seven fields of technology for cooperation [5]:

  • Open source software
  • Development of 3G and next-generation mobile communications
  • Next-generation Internet (Internet Protocol Version 6)
  • Digital TVs and broadcasting
  • Network and information security
  • Telecommunications service policies
  • 2008 Beijing Olympics collaboration

A few months after the initial meeting, the three countries further promised they would jointly develop a Linux-based open source operating system and promote open source development through active government- and private-level R&D activities and information sharing. A Chinese newspaper, The People’s Daily, reported the countries would focus on the development of an open source software certification system and Linux-based software standards, and evaluate Linux-based products. According to the newspaper, the three countries confirmed their adherence to open source development principles and promised contributions to the global open source community. This story was reported in the Asian press throughout the region.

Considering the status and experience of these three countries in the IT area, their cooperation has begun to attract a great deal of attention in the global IT community. If the cooperation turns out to be successful, impact on the world IT industry may be enormous.

The strengths of each nation make this partnership unique. Japan has demonstrated leadership in consumer electronics and related technologies. South Korea has developed strong broadband and mobile phone industries and views IT as an important means for economic growth. China, a newly emergent economic power, has drawn continued investment in the technology sector due to its huge number of potential consumers and low-cost production facilities. Currently China’s IT industry and software market are growing faster than any other country’s. According to IDC, China’s packaged software market reached $2.6 billion in 2004 and is expected to exceed $6.5 billion in 2009.

Considering the status and experience of these three countries in the IT area, their cooperation has begun to attract a great deal of attention in the global IT community. If the cooperation turns out to be successful, impact on the world IT industry may be enormous.

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The Driving Forces

Numerous factors involving geography, politics, economics, and security motivated CJK’s open source-based software initiative. Most importantly, the three countries are geographically close and have maintained relationships over thousands of years. The countries share Chinese characters and similar traditions, offering an ideal basis for developing regional standards for new computer software, hardware, and electronic devices [11]. To this end, it appears that CJK has concluded that open source-based software development would be more promising than traditional software development based on proprietary technologies for developing domestic and/or regional technology standards. In this context, Linux-based operating system development has been an important part of their effort to develop software to support Asian languages, which typically have more characters than Western alphabets [4].

Security concerns seem to be another important driving force. Today, government services and administration rely heavily on technology. Thus, governments are concerned about information security and tend to be cautious about storing data in the proprietary formats of commercial software vendors [2]. This concern seems to be higher in East Asian countries where e-government initiatives are picking up. There also has been a major concern regarding the security and vulnerability of commercial software. Software products by major vendors such as Microsoft have been under constant attack by hackers. For example, recent security flaws in Microsoft’s software, such those exploited by the Blaster worm, have raised concerns worldwide [2], prompting the company to release a major security overhaul to its products including Windows. In particular, in 2003, South Korea, one of the world’s most wired countries, experienced almost half a day of Internet blackout due to the "SQL Slammer" worm targeting a security flaw in Microsoft’s SQL Server database software. This incident was later blamed by the media for seriously damaging Microsoft’s reputation in that country. Coincidently, later in 2003, the government announced a plan to replace proprietary software in its computers with open source products by 2007 [6].

Strong political and economic forces are also driving the desired changes [4]. Recently, a Japanese anti-monopoly unit conducted a surprise raid on Microsoft’s offices in Tokyo [12]. This raid came just a few days after the European Union’s antitrust ruling against Microsoft. China’s government has been straightforward about its intentions of open source development, according to news media. In 2005, the South Korean Fair Trade Commission ordered Microsoft to separate its popular software such as Messenger and Outlook from the Windows operating system and fined the company $33 million.

Related to security concerns, the trio has shown a strong interest in technological self-reliance, particularly with regard to software. For decades East Asian countries have adopted an economic model in which centralized government intervention plays a key role in economic planning and development. In recent years, governmental intervention and/or initiatives in the technology sector have been increasing in Asia, which is different from Western countries, particularly the U.S. For example, the South Korean government has shown a great interest in the development of homemade enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems by domestic vendors targeting the country’s many small and medium-sized companies. The government has aimed at reducing the reliance of domestic companies on foreign software vendors. Chinese and Japanese officials have also publicly expressed their desire to reduce their reliance on foreign software and to take control over their software industry and market. The People’s Daily of China in 2002 proclaimed, "The monopoly of foreign office software in the Chinese market will be broken." The Japanese and Western media [6] reported that in 2003 the Japanese government spent over 1 billion yen on the open source development project.

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Asia, in comparison to Europe and North America, has been late in adopting Linux [3]. In the region, servers are predominately Windows- and Unix- based. The Gartner Group reports less than 5% of the servers in the region operate on Linux [3]. Like other IT initiatives, the trio’s collaboration will face challenges and may fail. Regardless of the eventual outcome, the announcement has already surprised domestic and foreign industries as well as other governments. If the project succeeds as planned, many areas, including technology, economics, politics and even culture, will be greatly impacted.

Technological. Technological impacts could appear in a number of ways. Foremost, the Linux momentum will continue. Industry data already predicts this in Asia, particularly within China, South Korea, and Japan. According to IDC, the number of Linux servers in the region will grow about 30% annually until 2008 [3]. The CJK initiative is likely to accelerate this trend. The initiative will increase the position of the Linux-based OS. For example, the joint venture between Japan’s Miracle Linux and China’s Red Flag Linux released its first public beta of Linux OS in early 2004. Later, in September of 2005, South Korea’s HaanSoft joined the partnership and the three companies released a GNU/Linux-based operating system called Asianux 2.0.

In addition, due to the strength of the region in consumer electronics and industrial equipments, embedded Linux will compete with other embedded operating systems like Palm OS and Symbian. Generally, embedded OS applications are integrated into electronic appliances and industrial equipment. Embedded applications account for the trillion-dollar global electronic market [7]. Already, embedded Linux OS is running on many different kinds of machines and devices such as cars, cell phones, and other consumer electronics. More Linux-based embedded applications will come to market soon and global adoption is expected to grow.

Linux momentum is likely to lead to reactions from Microsoft. The company previously announced that it has no plans to develop Linux application software. Meta Group predicted, however, that the company may offer Linux support for its server software in the future [10]. The company now has the Linux/Open Source Software Lab to test interoperability of software from Microsoft and others including Linux. These may indicate a future change of the company’s attitude and strategic position toward open source/Linux.

Economic. The CJK initiative’s economic impact may be even greater than its technological impact. Linux could be a threat to Microsoft’s continuous growth, and the CJK initiative makes the situation more difficult. Experts predict that to compete with Linux, Microsoft may need to lower its operating system costs [10]. Since a Linux-based operating system represents an alternative option to Windows, more governments may try to negotiate new software license contracts with Microsoft, as was the case with the U.K. in 2004 [4].

Governments purchased almost $17 billion worth of software globally in 2002, and an almost 9% annual increase is expected for the next five years, according to IDC [2]. However, Microsoft’s sales to governmental users have remained low and are only $2.8 billion [2]. When more governments adopt Linux, the companies that may benefit include large IT consulting and system integration firms capable of alternative product installation and companies selling Linux-based products and services [2]. This explains the increasing investment in open source-related research and software development by leading IT services and system integration companies such as IBM and Oracle.

If transnational collaboration on software projects continues, software as well as development skills could possibly come to represent a country or region’s power, like today’s atomic weapons, satellites, and spacecraft.

In addition to the CJK trio, other Asian countries such as India have strategically viewed and promoted the software industry as the source for future economic growth of their countries. These countries already possess advanced software development expertise and their long-term goal seems to extend beyond reducing reliance on foreign software to also selling their products to international consumers. Thus, some Asian countries may emerge as major software exporters.

It seems likely that the CJK initiative will ramp up the discussion about intellectual property. According to The People’s Daily, all three countries stressed the high priority of intellectual property rights protection in open source development. However, what form of intellectual property rights will emerge in the region as a result of CJK initiative is uncertain. This remains unclear for two reasons. First, open source software development takes a different position on software ownership than the current commercial software market. Secondly, compared to North American and other Western countries, intellectual property rights in Asia have been widely disregarded. That partly can be attributed to the region’s history and culture [9]. In general, it is difficult to find a strong individualistic Western-style ownership concept in many Asian countries. For example, learning by copying/modifying has been long emphasized in various aspects of individual life and business activities in East Asia, and in its history this type of learning has been regarded as necessary in such activities as product design and technology innovation [9].

Political. The initiative has several political ramifications. Foremost, regardless of whether the initiative is successful, CJK’s global ambition for the world’s open source software market may threaten U.S. technological leadership and could damage U.S-based companies. On the other hand, Linux-related organizations are expected to grow.

Other commercial-oriented Linux-based collaboration in the region is expected to grow as well. As mentioned earlier, the release of Asianux 2.0 by China’s Red Flag Software, Japan’s Miracle Linux, and Korea’s HaanSoft with a stated goal of becoming the Asian Linux, has captured the IT industry’s attention. Asianux is envisioned not as packaged software, but rather as a platform and pan-Asian standard upon which vendors will build products. The idea is already bearing commercial fruit. In South Korea, the National Education Information System (NEIS) contract has been awarded and will be deployed with the Haansoft Linux 2005 server, Asianux. Other plans to introduce Indian and Malaysian companies have been revealed.

Because of this, even more political issues are likely to emerge at the governmental level. Members of the U.S. House International Relations Committee have recently questioned the EU’s decision to fine Microsoft for anti-trust practices. The members argued that the EU’s decision will discourage American companies from marketing their products in Europe. Coincidently, right after CJK signed the collaboration project, in an annual report released in April 2004, the U.S. trade representative categorized China, Japan, and South Korea as its "key countries of concern” in the same telecommunications sector (such as 3G services). Potentially, more international trade issues may occur between U.S. and Asian countries. The CJK trio could be particularly affected. An Asian Linux standard would undoubtedly add to the debate.

If transnational collaboration on software projects continues, software as well as development skills could possibly come to represent a country or region’s power, like today’s atomic weapons, satellites, and spacecraft. Military independence is important for countries today, and perhaps technological self-reliance will be viewed as important in the near future.

Cultural. Potentially, the overall outcomes of the initiative, rather than the initiative itself, may lead to cultural changes in the IT area. One long-term cultural effect may be the introduction of Eastern cultural concepts into software design. It stands to reason that software carries culture. For example, software such as Microsoft Outlook seems to be deeply influenced by American culture, often characterized by individualism, entrepreneurship, and monochromic time [4]. If a software application can be a carrier of cultural traits and values, MS-based software distributed globally has already made significant contributions to the influence of American culture around the world [1]. Both programmers and users have unconsciously adopted facets of American culture in their life and work. If CJK and other Asian countries, such as India, emerge as software exporters, it may lead to the flow of Asian culture and values into the Western world.

Traditional software engineering techniques and methods were based on ideas and concepts such as formalized system development methodologies, complete or detailed planning and analysis, and centralized coordination. Open source software development does not abide by the aforementioned principles and is bringing about a new view of how complex software products can be developed on a large-scale basis [8]. Along with the current Linux/Open Source momentum, the culture and practices (such as continuous redesign, decentralized community-based system development, and software informalism [8]) of the open source software project will be more widely spread in software design and the overall IT area as well. The CJK initiative will likely accelerate the adoption of such non-traditional software development practices and culture in industry and academia.

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No one can know if the CJK initiative will be successful. However, what seems clear is the trio’s strong desire to increase their self-reliance and their ambition to be leaders in computing and telecommunications. The CJK initiative appears to be just the beginning for cooperation between these countries, and more collaborative activities (including Internet Protocol Version 6, and next-generation mobile standards) are expected in the near future. Different models and software development styles will remain. But the Linux adoption by the Asian economic trio will have direct and indirect impacts on future technology development, the world economy, international politics, and software design culture and practices.

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    1. Carmel, E. American hegemony in packaged software trade and the culture of software. The Information Society 13, 125–142.

    2. Dean, L. Microsoft at the power point. Economist (Sept. 11, 2003).

    3. Einhorn, B. Asia loves Linux and Microsoft scrambles. Business Week (Jan. 12, 2004).

    4. Himmelsbach, V. Asian governments start to speak the same language on Linux implementations. Technology in Government 10, 12 1–5;

    5. MPHPT further promotion of cooperation among China-Japan-Korea. Communications News: The Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications Japan 15, 9, 1–10.

    6. Myoung, S.E. Korea, China, Japan start open-source collaboration. ZDnet UK (Apr. 1, 2004).

    7. Salkever, A. A Linux ecosystem for cell phones? Business Week (Mar. 10, 2004).

    8. Scacchi, W. Free/open source software development practices in the computer game community. IEEE Software 21, 1, 98–110.

    9. Spierer, J.C. Intellectual property in China: Prospects for new market entrants. Harvard Asia Quarterly 3, 3;

    10. Wilcox, J. and Shankland, S. Analysts: Microsoft feels tug of Linux CNET News.Com (Dec. 10, 2002).

    11. Yang, S. Move by Three Asian economies expected to compete with Microsoft. Korea Now (Sept. 10, 2003).

    12. Yegeyama, Y. Microsoft raid highlights growing fears. The Japan Times (Apr. 3, 2004).

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