It is now government policy in China to use the Linux operating system across all government ministries, according to Jon "Maddog" Hall, the executive director of Linux International, a non-profit group that distributes information about the open-source operating system.
At the opening of the LinuxWorld Asia conference here today, Hall said he was told this by China's Minister of Information Industry, Wu Jichuan, during a visit Hall made to Beijing in July.
Hall received a strong signal of support from the Chinese authorities for the open-source Linux OS, he said.
"I believe China is at least very strongly going to follow with Linux, and at least use it as one of their premier OSes," Hall said.
The Chinese minister did not specificially say that there was a government ban on using Microsoft Windows 2000, as has been reported recently in the media, Hall said. Hall conceded, however, that he did not directly ask Wu Jichuan about such a ban, but assumed that the story is a rumor.
In comments following his address opening the conference here, Hall said Linux is a good choice for China, both for local control of the OS and for security reasons.
"I would like to see companies in the Asian market develop their own implementation of an OS rather than depend on companies outside their region for their OS," Hall said.
He estimated that fewer than 25,000 people in China are familiar with Windows source code, whereas developers all throughout China can have access to Linux's open code to develop their own versions and applications.
As for security, he said military and intelligence agencies around the world have adopted Linux for sensitive systems.
"The fact that they don't have to tell some U.S. company what they're doing is reason enough for them to use Linux," Hall said.
Hall opened the conference by giving a history of Linux and evangelizing its use in the Asia-Pacific market, while acknowledging its shortcomings for the region.
"No good model for internationalization and localization exists," Hall said.
Likewise, today most implementations of Linux are not equipped to handle Chinese double-byte characters, he said. Three different internationalization projects are under way, Hall said.
More broadly, he said, Linux is not yet an enterprise-quality OS equipped to run life-or-death systems such as pacemakers.
However, the potential of the free, upstart OS in developing countries is phenomenal, according to Hall. Users of all OSes combined number only 400 million worldwide, he said.
"That means 4 billion, 600 million people have not chosen their operating system yet," Hall said.
"That's who we are attempting to reach with Linux."