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The Korean government is to buy 120,000 copies of Hancom Linux Deluxe this year, enough to switch 23 per cent of its installed base Microsoft user to open source equivalents.

By standardising on Linux and HancomOffice, the Korean government expects to make savings of 80 per cent, compared with buying Microsoft products.

This should be regarded as a big setback for Microsoft in Korea, for many years one of the few countries in which it was not the dominant player in all of the desktops app business.

The thorn in its side was Haansoft, formerly known as Hangul and Computer, which is the owner of the Hancom business. Until the late 90s, the Hangul wordprocessor was the major wordprocessing package in Korea with 90 per cent-plus market share. (This dominance was not reflected in sales figures - as most packages were pirated.)

Microsoft even tried to buy the company in 1999 - but was beaten back by a fierce, nationalistic campaign conducted by local consumers and business (Story: Koreans raise the Anti-Microsoft standard).

The combination of cost imperative and patriotism may be even more attractive in many other Asian countries - Korea is, after all the world's 11th biggest economy. And despite suffering economic crisis in the late 90s, Korea has deeper pockets than most of its neighbours.

China, the biggest prize of all - potentially - could already be slipping from Microsoft's grasp. This month Gartner noted the award of contracts by the Beijing municipal governments to six indigenous bidders, with the seventh, Microsoft, rejected (Story: Red Flag Linux beats out Windows in Beijing). ®

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