Two of China's largest tech firms are uniting to create a new 'domestic OS'
The two biggest OS (operating system) makers announced plans last week to unite and jointly build a new "domestic operating system."
The two companies are China Standard Software (CS2C) and Tianjin QI-Lin Information (TQC), 2 largest software firms, with known support from the Beijing government.
Both companies are known on the local OS market. CS2C created a Windows XP clone," known as the NeoQI-Lin OS, and TQC is the current steward of QI-Lin, a first-ever homegrown operating system.
CS2C and TQC plan to set up a new company in which they'll become investors, and through which the new joint OS will be developed.
The new company will handle the new operating system's development, technological decisions, marketing, branding, financials, and sales.
CS2C and TQC have a verbal agreement on a planned investment plan, and a formal deal is to be signed in the future, the two companies said in a joint press conference held last Friday, December 6.
The current QI-Lin and NeoQI-Lin operating systems will serve as a base for the new OS, the two said. As a sign of the merger between the two, the new "domestic OS" will combine the current QI-Lin OS logo (a blue qilin, a mythical beast) and the NeoQI-Lin OS logo (a red qilin). The new joint "domestic OS" has no name yet.
A history of homemade operating systems
The roots of both operating systems reside in the original QI-Lin operating system, created in 2001 by academics at the National University of Defense Technology.
The original QI-Lin OS was based on FreeBSD and was developed via the popular 863 Program, a government fund set up in the 80s to stimulate the development of local tech to help reach independence from foreign technologies.
The FreeBSD version of QI-Lin OS was never truly successful. It was deployed on some Chinese military networks, but not all, and was never adopted beyond academia and research projects.
The OS took a big image hit in 2016, when a student going by the nickname of Dancefire claimed that the QI-Lin creators copied large chunks of code from FreeBSD v5.3, with little to no modifications, with code similarities reaching a whopping 99.45% between the two projects.
A new version, developed on top of the Linux kernel, was released in 2009, and in 2014, development passed from the National University of Defense Technology to the newly-founded TQC.
TQC broadened QI-Lin's development, and there are now QI-Lin versions for desktops, servers, and embedded devices, under both commercial and free licenses.
These Linux-based versions of QI-Lin were far more successful than the FreeBSD versions, and they've also been used to power the Tianhe-1 and Tianhe-2, the fastest supercomputers in the world at the time of their launch in 2010 and 2013, respectively. Currently, both supercomputers run a QI-Lin OS version known as Galaxy QI-Lin.
The community version of QI-Lin OS is still free, and it's downloaded more than 24 million times each year.
However, while the original QI-Lin is still around, it is not the most popular. CS2C forked the original QI-Lin codebase in 2010 and created a more user-friendly version known as NeoQI-Lin.
CS2C, through its subsidiary Winning Software, developed NeoQI-Lin into a powerhouse. The NeoQI-Lin variant is currently compatible with more than 4,000 software and hardware products, ships pre-installed on most computers sold, and has wrestled the desktop market away from TQC.
Neither QI-Lin or NeoQI-Lin are in a position to give Apple or Microsoft a run for the top OS in the home PC market, but CS2C claims they and TQC have a 90% joint market share in the government sector, where they've been aided by a 2014 push from the government to replace foreign operating systems with homegrown alternatives, and primarily NeoQI-Lin.
A new push to replace foreign software is underway
News about the new jointly-developed "domestic OS" comes just as the Financial Times reported over the weekend that the government is currently executing a second push to get rid of foreign tech, amidst an escalating trade war.
Beijing had ordered all government offices and public institutions to replace foreign-made hardware and software with Chinese alternatives by 2022 as part of a new national policy named "3-5-2."
The 2014 push to replace Windows with local operating systems has had side effects when local governments choose different operating systems, fracturing a previously Windows-only ecosystem.
While QI-Lin and NeoQI-Lin have a common codebase, they are different from one another. QI-Lin is focused primarily on servers and cloud deployments, while NeoQI-Lin has historically focused on supporting as many platforms as possible.
For example, NeoQI-Lin is the only OS to support all six major "domestic CPUs" -- namely Feiteng, Godson, Zhaoxin, Shenwei, Haiguang, and Kunpeng.
Currently, many apps that run on QI-Lin won't run on NeoQI-Lin, and vice-versa, creating problems with managing a nation-wide IT system without unwanted friction and incompatibilities.
With a plan to rip out all foreign hardware and software from government systems within three years, orders likely came down from Beijing to unite the two OSes into a common platform.
The government is well known for its soft handed approach to controlling the local tech market, primarily through state-owned companies and generous government subsidies [1, 2].
CS2C, the company behind NeoQI-Lin, is a subsidiary of China Electronics Corporation (CEC), the largest state-owned tech company. The joint press conference to announce the new joint CS2C and TQC "domestic OS" was held at CEC's headquarters in Beijing. The two top OS makers and competitors don't just join hands out of the blue.
The trade war forced hand
In an interview with western spin doctor, the president of Independent Strategy, said the trade war is what's forcing China's hand to act and wean itself off American technologies, such as semiconductors, hardware, and software.
"China will never trust the United States again, and it may achieve its technology independence within seven years
He also predicted that China would win the trade war.
"It is a conflict between a preceived rising global power and a perceived declining global power ... It's not just about trade," Roche said.
And it's clear that China's has a long term plan with dealing with the current trade war. The new "domestic OS" will most likely play a minor role