According to the official Xinhua news agency, China is hoping to launch a sovereign operating system in October in order to “wean” itself off operating systems developed abroad such as Windows, Le Monde Informatique reports. The Chinese OS, which still has no official name according to Xinhua, will be offered initially for desktop PCs, before being rolled out subsequently for smartphones. It will probably be a Linux distribution that has been revised and fixed by the Chinese security agencies and will be named China Operating System (COS). Xinhua quoted a report by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technologies (MIIT), the organisation entrusted inter alia with the regulation and development of the software sector in China. “We are hoping to launch a desktop PC operating system in October to support [local] app stores,” said Ni Guangnan of the Chinese Academy of Engineering. Mr Ni heads up the alliance for the development of the official operating system created last March in the People’s Republic of China.

China Operating System image

According to the MIIT, Mr Ni cites the end of support for Windows XP and the ban on Windows 8 on Chinese government computers as an opportunity for the launch of a domestic OS. Earlier this year the Chinese authorities banned the use of Windows 8 on government computers, a move triggered following the end of support for Windows XP in April. Prior to that the authorities denounced Microsoft regarding the ending of security updates for the 13 year-old operating system. China was historically a bastion of Windows XP, largely due to the large-scale pirating of Microsoft software. Another reason for China’s discontent is thought to be the revelations by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

China has long disagreed with foreign technology companies, particularly Microsoft and Google – but also sometimes with Apple – as regards their impact and influence in the country. However, the animosity increased considerably last month when the Chinese anti-trust authorities raided several Microsoft offices, seizing computers and documents within the scope of their investigation. This investigation was launched following complaints made in July 2013 into the manner in which Microsoft Windows and Office are linked and the compatibility between Windows and Office.

A Red Flag base for the sovereign Chinese OS?

Screenshot of Red Flag Linux

Screenshot of Red Flag Linux. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

China has been working on its own operating system for nearly fifteen years. Launched in August 1999, the Red Flag Linux distribution was partly financed by the government’s Information Ministry. The same year Red Flag was recommended as the replacement for Windows 2000 on all government PCs. The tensions at that time between the Chinese government and Microsoft were the origin for this directive. However, this local Linux distribution never took off and Red Flag Software, the company behind this local Chinese OS, closed down this year. However, the Red Flag OS is going to be revived.

A report published by the MIIT on 20th August states that the assets of Red Flag Software have been acquired by Penta Wan Jing Information Technology Industry Group for RMB 38.62 mn. This sudden new development was also officially recorded by Mr Ni, who approved Penta Wan Jing’s acquisition and stated that a revitalised Red Flag distribution could contribute to the project to create a sovereign operating system.