Open Tech Today - Top Stories

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Has Microsoft Open Sourced Itself in China?

Many reports are now discussing how Microsoft has conquered China through a combination of political hands-on and piracy hands-off, together with deep discounts (some call it dumping).

Another way to describe Microsoft strategy in China is open source lite.

Yes, Bill Gates has courted Chinese politicians aggressively in Beijing and Redmond. Yes, Microsoft has a shiny, new Chinese research center. Yes, it offers Windows/Office at rock bottom prices - $3 for Chinese students. The discount for government is top secret.

But, most importantly, Microsoft now takes a hands-off approach to the rampant pirating of its software in China.

The truth is: Piracy is helping Microsoft compete in China, and beat Linux.

In effect, Microsoft has partially open sourced itself in China ...

Windows and Office are copied and distributed for free (or nearly so) without any real licensing or IP restraints, and without legal challenge by Microsoft.

MS provides access to source code, for the government at least, allowing the Chinese to insert their own code and cryptography.

As a matter of business strategy, Microsoft is concentrating on building (even dominating) market share first, and worrying about sales second.

And finally, it has made China--through its research center in Beijing--an integral part of a collaborative, global process for software development.

Sound familiar? It isn't.

It's not the normal Microsoft strategy, and obviously it is not the work of an open source company. But Microsoft's approach to China has stolen a few pages from the open source playbook.

Call it: "Dr. Gateslove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Piracy."

Categories: China, Microsoft, opensource


zimboymm said...

a diabolical strategy indeed. how does MS prevent china open source copies of Office escaping China?

Jeff said...

It is not really "open source" copies of Office.

It is just pirated copies of Office, and these certainly do escape China for other markets where pirated software is widely sold.

That said, the Chinese government does get access to the source code for Windows / Office provided by Microsoft. This allows the Chinese to insert some of their own code (e.g., security features) into Windows. That was part of the deal MS negotiated in order to receive the Chinese government's blessing on use of Windows by gov agencies.

Ryan Yatol said...
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