Japan, China, Korea plan joint open-source project

The governments of Japan, China and South Korea have reached basic agreement on the formation of a joint open-source software project that could encompass desktop applications, embedded programs, middleware and operating systems.

The plan was proposed by Takeo Hiranuma, the Japanese Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry, when he met with representatives of the Chinese and South Korean governments at an Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Wednesday, said an official at the information service industry division of Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).

The three countries are planning to hammer out more details of the plan at a meeting later this month in Seoul, and a meeting to bring together private companies that might be interested in taking part is scheduled for November in Osaka, Japan, the METI official said.

One decision to be made at the Seoul meeting is the areas the project will focus on, the official said. At present it has broadly defined open-source software development as its goal.

A main focus of the project will likely be the development of an operating system, said Junichi Saeki, vice president of research at IDC Japan. Because software such as desktop applications and embedded systems are all based on an operating system of some kind, it makes sense for the project to target this base layer, he said.

If development of an operating system is decided upon, it is likely to be based on an existing system rather than being totally new, Saeki said.

“A brand new operating system starting from zero is impossible,” he said. “Developing a new operating system is time consuming and very expensive. In general, it could be based on Linux with some specific functions added. There are already a lot of Linux engineers out there. (The Japanese real-time OS) TRON could be a candidate for the core portion of the new OS and China may have another basic idea.”

Whatever form a new operating system takes, if the three countries decide that is what they want to pursue there is likely to be one big loser, he said.

“The most impact will be felt by Microsoft (Corp.) because Windows is the dominant operating system,” said Saeki.

Microsoft is already feeling pressure from the spread of open-source software in Asia. The company recently offered its Windows XP operating system and Office software package for US$40 as part of a Thai government program to offer low-wage earners a computer and Internet connection. The cuts came after the government chose to use Red Hat Inc.’s Linux operating system and Sun Microsystems Inc.’s StarOffice software in the program.

Behind the collaboration between the three countries is a wish to break the dominance of western software companies in the operating system and applications market, said Saeki.

“So far the important software has been developed by U.S. and European companies and that means developing nations like China and South Korea are not able to get benefit from it. They want to develop their own portions, especially the operating system. They do not want to be governed by western companies.”