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Ubuntu tapped by China for national operating system

Canonical to help government add "Chinese specific" features to OS

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Ubuntu is going to become the reference architecture for a Linux distribution, backed and developed by the Chinese government.

The news means Ubuntu-stewards Canonical will work with China's National University of Defense Technology, and The China Software and Integrated Chip Promotions Center, to develop a Chinese-flavored version of the popular Linux distribution.

This software will help China provide "a flexible, open, widely-used and standardized operating system," Canonical said on Thursday.

"This collaboration will bring local investment and participation to ensure that the platform is relevant for the Chinese market, and close coordination with the global Ubuntu project ensures that it is familiar to software and hardware vendors, and useful for export products made by Chinese companies as well," Canonical chief executive Jane Silber said in a statement.

A "CCN Open Source Innovation Joint Lab" has been create in Beijing where where engineers from all three organizations will code "an enhanced version of the Ubuntu desktop with features specific to the Chinese market".

The first distribution made under this scheme will come out in April 2013 and will be named Ubuntu Kylin.

Chinese specific features in the 13.04 release include Chinese input methods and Chinese calendars, along with weather indicators and integration of various Chinese sites into the Dash.

Future releases will see services for payment processing for banks and online shopping added in, along with integration with popular Chinese software for photo editing and document production.

Other repressive nations that have developed local versions of Linux include North Korea, which built the KDE-based Red Star OS to help wean it as a nation off of an unfortunate dependence on Windows made by the capitalists over at Microsoft.

China's decision to plough more resources into Linux development stems from a similar desire to wean itself off of technologies developed by Western companies as part of the nation's latest five year plan.

Because the software is open source it's unlikely that any backdoors could be added into the Ubuntu OS without the global Linux community taking notice.

This contrasts with Skype, which is available in a Chinese-flavour that spies on its users and logs information about them talking or making phone calls about sensitive subjects to the repressive state. The software is delivered as a partnership between local company TOM Online and Microsoft.

The National University of Defense Technology tends to develop variants of Western technologies and then take them into a different direction altogether, as evidenced by its past involvement in stewarding the development of China's MIPS-based processors, and of helping guide development of the novel interconnects used in some of China's top supercomputers. Who knows what may go on in the lab?

With a population of 1.34bn and rising, China is all but certain to be the largest market for desktop operating systems in the world in terms of users, and with Mark Shuttleworth leading a charge to get the Unity-dressed Ubuntu in front of as many people as possible, who can blame him for hitching Canonical a little bit closer to the Chinese state? ®

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