Two recent issues involving Microsoft have particularly drawn the public’s attention. In early April of 2014, Microsoft stopped its security updates and technical support for Windows XP, the most successful operating system for PCs but one whose retirement had been delayed for too long. Then, on May 16, 2014, a notice issued by China’s Central Government Procurement Center banned the installation of Windows 8 on computers that will be used by Chinese government.
When Microsoft stopped supporting Windows XP, nearly 30 percent of the PCs around the world were still running under this system. In China and particularly in many Chinese governmental organizations and state-owned enterprises, the percentage of computers using Windows XP ranges from 60 percent to as high as 95 percent. Chinese netizens joked about an inevitable “era of streaking” for millions of PCs still running Windows XP.
Though Microsoft will no longer support Windows XP, continued technical support is still available from local IT companies such as Tencent, Qihoo 360, and Kingsoft. For those PCs still running Windows XP, the technical maintenance expenses are negligible compared to the expense of upgrading to a newer generation OS such as Windows 7 or Windows 8 — and personal users can enjoy tech support without any extra fees. What’s more, numerous applications developed for Windows XP are still being used in many national institutions such as banks. Re-designing and reallocating new applications will be much more expensive than maintaining the operation of existing ones.
However, the evolution of operating systems won’t stop its pace. When China’s Central Government Procurement Center banned Windows 8 on computers to be purchased by the government, Microsoft expressed surprise in a statement and said that it is still working on the evaluation of Window 8 by relevant government agencies.
So, on one hand, a very large number of computers used by Chinese government and state-owned enterprises are still running an old operating system without official support from its developer, Microsoft. On the other hand, the Chinese government has banned Windows 8 from use in government offices. What does this mean?
China Central TV (CCTV) indicates that, in the short term, China needs a comprehensive defense system for its over 200 million computers still running Windows XP, while in the long term China must develop its own operating system. China’s fundamental concerns come from the fact that operating systems are directly related to information security, particularly in view of China’s wide-range adoptions of foreign software and hardware as well. The recent NSA spying scandal has intensified Beijing’s concerns about its national information security in the era of an interconnected world, in which a limited number of U.S. giants in the hardware and software industries have dominated the market for decades.
In fact, China has invested a lot in developing its own operating system. In January 2014, the Institute of Software at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (ISCAS) together with Shanghai Liantong Network Communications Technology unveiled the new “China Operating System (COS),” a Linux-based operating system designed especially for mobile devices. However, Chinese netizens doubt that this is a genuinely “home-made” operating system, since its core part is based on Linux, although its user interface and system services are independently designed — like many other products “Made in China,” COS is part imitation, part innovation.
China’s goal is clear: To have more control over matters related to its information security by having more options to choose from. But China has a long way to go in building up its domestic industries before it can decouple from the Western giants.