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Compaq in deal to translate OS into Chinese

The computer maker joins with a Chinese company to translate its Tru64 Unix operating system into Chinese in an effort the Chinese government is supporting.

Compaq Computer has joined with a Chinese company to translate its Tru64 Unix operating system into Chinese in an effort the Chinese government is supporting.

Compaq has signed an agreement with the China National Computer Software and Technology Service Corporation (CS&S), which will begin work on a Chinese version of Tru64 Unix called Cosix64, said Don Jenkins, vice president of marketing for Compaq's Unix software division.

The agreement is between Compaq and CS&S, but the Chinese government's Ministry of Information Industries endorsed the deal. "MII will provide support actively to the collaboration of the two companies," said the MII's Lu Xin-kui in a statement.

High technology isn't as widespread in China as in the United States or Europe, but it's catching on, and there's potential for vast revenue by getting in on the ground floor. Some observers see computing in China as the sequel to the lucrative cellular phone business that's swept across the nation.

"We expect China will be a great opportunity for American vendors," said Jean Bozman, an analyst with International Data Corporation. "China is emerging on the other side of this Asian crisis," she said, and Unix systems would be a good solution for Chinese organizations that are just getting started in setting up a computing infrastructure.

Compaq CEO Eckhard Pfeiffer signed the deal with CS&S today in Beijing while on a four-day trip to China. CS&S is part of MII, China's largest systems integrator, and is one of the country's top 100 electronics organizations, Compaq said. The agreement is a follow-up of a September 1998 memorandum of understanding between Compaq and CS&S.

Jenkins said he believed the deal "is a very important signal by MII that this is a product they will actively support... They believe they need a stable base to foster the growth of the software industry in China."

But Compaq isn't the only company pushing Unix in China. Pacific HiTech, based in Japan, last year began an effort to sell TurboLinux in China. Linux is a Unix-like operating system whose original programming code can be circulated and modified freely, unlike Compaq's proprietary Tru64 Unix.

Pacific HiTech, however, in some ways is ahead of Compaq. TurboLinux, the dominant Linux distribution in Japan, has worked out the issues of supporting Asian languages, and Pacific HiTech already has a technical support center in China.

However, TurboLinux is available only on 32-bit chips, Intel and PowerPC processors. Tru64 Unix works on the 64-bit Alpha chip, and Compaq has the operating system up and running on Intel's simulator of the next-generation 64-bit chip, Jenkins said.

Pacific HiTech is working on a port of TurboLinux to the Alpha chip that will be released in coming months, said Pacific HiTech spokesman Lonn Johnston. In addition, TurboLinux is close to announcing partners--two large system integrators and software development companies--who will help Pacific HiTech staff the 60-line telephone support center in Beijing. The Chinese version of TurboLinux is for sale in China now, he added.

Jenkins said that Compaq's work to make Linux and Tru64 Unix coexist easily will extend to its Chinese products. Linux and Tru64 Unix are complementary products, he added, with Tru64 Unix geared well for heavy-duty systems with many processors.

Cosix64 will be able to run Tru64 Unix programs unmodified. "We don't want these two products to diverge," Jenkins said.

Compaq and CS&S will engage in joint marketing of the operating system, and Compaq will provide CS&S with source code and technical support.

Tru64 Unix, formerly known as Digital Unix, is an international program with support for large alphabets, Jenkins said.

Alphabets used in Europe and the Americas can fit into the 256 slots available when letters are recorded in a single byte of information. Using two, though, expands the number of characters past 65,000--enough to accommodate the large alphabets common to Asia. However, building support for two-byte character sets isn't simple.

Tru64 Unix supports the Unicode standard, which currently has 38,887 characters defined, including the characters from the Arabic, Cyrillic, Japanese, Thai, and Chinese alphabets.