Canonical Is Building A Standardized, Open-Source OS Specific To China

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Canonical announced via its blog yesterday that it will be building an Ubuntu-based open-source OS for China, in partnership with the Chinese government and members of the Chinese developer community. The joint-venture, which will produce a version of the Linux-based Ubuntu called “Ubuntu Kylin” for an April 2013 release date, is said to “go beyond localization,” and include specific features and applications geared towards the Chinese market.

The development of Ubuntu Kylin will be a collaborative effort between the China Software and Integrated Chip Promotions Centre (CSIP), the National University of Defense Technology, and Canonical engineers, will focus on a desktop release first. But future extension to other platforms is also planned, and Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth indicated in the announcement that we could see a China-specific version of Ubuntu Touch down the road, too, for smartphones and tablets.

The BBC reports that this is “widely seen” as China trying to get its IT sector off of Western platforms and software, and onto alternatives sourced from within China itself. Of course, Canonical is based in the UK, but the new OS includes specific support baked in for China-based services and software, including music services, Baidu Maps, online shopping destination Taobao, Chinese bank payment processing and WPS, China’s most popular office suite software. In an interview, Canonical CEO Jane Silber explained that the move is about helping China take advantage of more open software options, and institutionalizing that behavior.

“It’s clear in what CSIT has said about the collaboration is that they’re interested in options, and choice and open source,” she said. “The same competitive pressures and openness that drives some people to open source in other markets are applicable in China as well. There’s certainly a desire to not be forced into walled gardens that look pretty but end up being handcuffs.”

A push to move China’s tech infrastructure off of Windows and onto Ubuntu, backed by the Chinese government, could have a major impact on Linux’s role in the future of computing. It’s fair to say that if China does indeed manage to migrate a significant percentage of its population onto Ubuntu Kylin, the global influence of Linux and Ubuntu will increase dramatically. China continues to gain influence as a market to target for software developers, and a sharp spike in share for Ubuntu pay big dividends in terms of encouraging companies to make Linux-supported version of their software.

Ubuntu already has strong traction in developing markets where it comes pre-installed on a lot of hardware, and this deal could help Ubuntu Touch replicate that kind of success, something Shuttleworth has previously stated is one of the company’s aims with the new mobile OS. It’ll have an uphill battle against Android, however, which has managed to pull far ahead in the race to sign on Chinese smartphone buyers. Silber added that while there’s currently nothing concrete in the works right now, but says she expects both mobile and cloud platform versions to be “part of this project in due course.”