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Asian Linux: Some keen, others cool

Asia could leapfrog the West in Linux development, but some governments are reluctant to do so, says an IBM executive.

Asia could leapfrog Western countries in the development of Linux-based applications, but some governments are not latching on to this opportunity, says a senior IBM executive.

"The open-source movement is moving faster here than in the U.S.," said Michinori Nakahara, manager of Linux sales and marketing for IBM Asia-Pacific South.

In the region, he pointed to Japan, Korea, China and India as strongest proponents of the Linux operating system. "We've talked to authorities in countries like China and Korea, and they are very interested in considering open-source," he said.

In particular, Nakahara sees great potential for research and development into embedded Linux applications in the region. Embedded Linux, which competes with embedded operating systems such as Microsoft Windows CE and Symbian, can be used to power electronics devices such as video recorders, cell phones and network routers.

"In particular, India and China are doing a lot of development on Linux at the client end," he added.

Given the momentum in the region, Nakahara is surprised that Singapore, one of the most technology-savvy nations in Asia, has stayed coy on the open-source movement and decided to forgo the chance at gaining a technological lead.

"Singapore is an advanced country--a familiar location for many research institutes and one of the earliest adopters of the Internet. Yet, people here seem to very conservative towards Linux, and I'm not sure why this so," he said.

Nakahara was speaking to reporters at the sidelines of the IBM Business Forum in Singapore.

While his observations aren't revelatory, they underline how some countries seem to have ignored the open-source movement.

North Asian countries such as China, Japan and Korea have long signaled their endorsement for Linux and even formed an alliance in March to fine-tune Linux and develop related applications.

For countries with a strong manufacturing base such as China, Korea and Japan, Linux gives them a chance to create an operating system free of licensing fees and with full control over the source code. Also, for China and India, there is national pride in working with an operating system that has intellectual property not owned by an American company.

"Most interest in Linux has been in Australia, China, Japan and Korea, and this momentum is coming from governments rather than enterprises," said Robin Simpson, Gartner Australia's research director, in an earlier interview.

Japanese authorities recently said it is considering a switch to Linux during its next information technology systems overhaul in 2005.

The government has reportedly taken up a 188 million yen ($1.6 million) contract by Fujitsu, IBM Japan and Oki Electric Industry to use open-source systems for managing salary and other personnel administration data for the country's 800,000 public servants.

In 2001, China's Beijing municipal government also snubbed Microsoft and awarded six software contracts to Chinese vendors. These included a deal for 2,000 desktop OS seats with Red Flag Linux, a state-linked Linux developer.

In Singapore, a representative of the Infocomm-Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore, the country's tech industry regulator, previously confirmed it is currently not looking into implementing Linux on a governmentwide basis.

However, IDA said it has now included Linux as an option for server operating systems for government tenders and contracts, along with other alternatives such as Microsoft's Windows 2000, Sun Microsystems' Solaris, IBM's AIX and Hewlett-Packard's (HP) Unix.

"Singapore seems more closely aligned with Microsoft and traditional commercial software development companies," said Gartner's Simpson.

CNETAsia's Winston Chai reported from Singapore.