Nanchang Requires Internet Cafes To Use Linux: Misses the Point Purposely?

by Ostatic Staff - Dec. 03, 2008

It's not breaking news that software piracy is a colossal problem, especially in China. ComputerWorld reports on how the piracy issue is prompting Nanchang, the capital of China's Jiangxi province, to require internet cafe operators to replace pirated Windows versions with Red Flag Linux. And there's the rub: they must replace pirated software with Red Flag Linux for 5,000 yuan ($725). The price includes two years of support, and the license lasts a "lifetime." It is unclear whether this license is per seat, or per business location, or whether system and security updates fall into the support area. There is some confusion on whether purchasing a legal Windows server license is an option. There is no confusion, it seems, on this front -- Red Flag Linux is the Linux cafe owners must use.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols surmises this has got to be the worst way to market Linux. I'd hazard a guess it's not "marketing" going on in Nanchang, but his worries are spot on.

It would be madness to think this an effort -- a real effort, anyway -- to stop software piracy. It's not about illegal licenses, or open source software. I hope it's more about generating revenue for those involved (on distribution or government levels, even) than it is about keeping a finger on the pulse of Nanchang's internet use. Right now, though, it's hard to tell.

Vaughan-Nichols mentions that for the 600 or so affected internet cafes in Nanchang, the price tag is astronomical. These cafes are the only access to computers that many people in the area have -- and the cafe owners aren't raking in cash (upkeep of public machines is intensive, and expensive).

I can't say if these internet cafe owners object to paying for the licensing and support simply because the price is high. There are likely many cafe owners who are aware that alternatives exist that are supported, localized, and who have the technical expertise to install and maintain these systems themselves. For these owners, it must not only be frustrating -- it has to be disconcerting.

I have a real problem letting myself worry that this is going to hinder open source software adoption in China. I'd be even more worried if I believed this was "bad press" for open source software or that people would get the "wrong idea" about what open source software represents.

Free as in beer is negotiable. Free as in speech, in open source terms, simply isn't. I can't help but be much more concerned that the "free as in speech" concept in this case is creaking under the weight of the irony.