China retaliates, nixes Windows 8 on government PCs

'Goes well as a response to the DOJ action,' says analyst

China has banned the use of Windows 8 on government computers, a move officials there claimed was a reaction to the end of Windows XP's support.

According to the Xinhua News Agency, an official press arm of the People's Republic, Windows 8 has been barred from government, but not private, PCs.

"It's a good sound bite for the Chinese government, it goes well as a response to the DOJ action, and if sales are low -- even if they eventually use it -- they'll have a statement to back it up," said Michael Silver, an analyst with Gartner, in an email reply to questions.

Silver referred to yesterday's charges by the U.S. Department of Justice leveled against five Chinese hackers with links to the People's Liberation Army (PLA), China's military. The DOJ accused the five of breaking into numerous U.S. companies' networks and stealing trade secrets and intellectual property.

Xinhua's Tuesday report said that the Central Government Procurement Center mandated that all "desktops, laptops and tablet PCs purchased by central state organizations must be installed with OS other than Windows 8."

The procurement center had posted a notice May 16 with revised requirements for government tenders, including one that barred Windows 8-powered systems, supposedly for energy-saving reasons, from any bids.

Xinhua said nothing of Windows 7, the most popular of Microsoft's operating systems. But it had plenty to say about the 13-year-old Windows XP, which was retired from public support last month.

According to Xinhua, the ban of Windows 8 was designed to avoid a repeat of XP's widespread use and its exit from support.

"The Chinese government obviously cannot ignore the risks of running OS without guaranteed technical support," Xinhua said. "It has moved to avoid the awkwardness of being confronted with a similar situation again in future if it continues to purchase computers with foreign OS."

Instead, China will accelerate the design of an in-country operating system based on Linux.

China has worked on a its own OS before: In 2000, Red Flag Linux, which was funded in part by the government's Ministry of Information, was released. Later that year, Red Flag was mandated as the replacement for Windows 2000 on all government PCs. Tensions between China's government and Microsoft were at the root of that order.

Red Flag never took off, and the company backing it shuttered earlier this year.

"[Creating their own OS] would really make sense, in that they can fully control it, including lifecycle and patching," said Silver.

While Windows is widely used in China -- XP is particularly popular, with a 70% share of the desktop OS market, according to Xinhua -- Microsoft has struggled for years to convince the government to crack down on piracy.

Earlier this year, Microsoft denied reports that it would make an exception for China-based Windows XP PCs, and continue to patch those machines after the official April 8 end-of-support.

According to Irish analytics company StatCounter, Windows 8 PCs accounted for 3.4% of all desktop browsing in China, while Windows XP and Windows 7 had shares of 44.1% and 47.2%, respectively.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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