Donovan Launches Chinese Linux

Donovan Systems Pte. Ltd. of Singapore last week used China as a springboard to propel itself towards its aim of becoming a global IT leader.

The manufacturer of inexpensive UltraSparc-based servers that run on Linux, did this by unveiling in China, Chinese Penguin64, the only Chinese language version of the operating system (OS).

"We want to make our mark as a Linux powerhouse in Asia, and the country to do that is China," said Gary Foong, chief executive officer at Donovan. "With a population of 1.2 billion people, you must have a significant presence in China to attain this goal."

With the Chinese language OS, Donovan hopes to repeat what another Singapore company, Creative Technologies Ltd., did for itself about a decade earlier, Foong said. Creative had released to the U.S. market what was then, the world's first sound card. That strategy worked well for Creative, and put Singapore on the map of IT development.

"But we are doing it differently in that instead of going to the United Sates, we start in the East. Hopefully we can make it in the China market, then that will take us to the next stage to being global," Foong said.

Chinese Penguin64 is a product of collaboration between the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Software (IOS) which is a national research and development agency for computer software engineering and applications, and a key contributor to China's national software development effort.

The new server software is the first Linux with true double-byte capacity in its kernel, doing away with the need for translation or emulation, Donovan said. In China, it is expected to be popular with Web site operators, software developers, and organizations with high-capacity needs. Its Chinese processing capability covers input, data processing, printing, and display. Parallel and cluster computing capabilities are also found at the kernel level.

Donovan's current strategy is to target its Chinese Penguin64-based servers at small and medium businesses and the education sector.

"There are 1,200 universities in China, and everyday students of the universities using the software are going to improve it as they do their projects," said Foong.

Their efforts will also benefit the native English language Linux, Foong added.

"Although Chinese Penguin64's character display and the applications that run on it are in Chinese, for development work, the English version remains the core of the new OS."

Chinese Linux, like its English language counterpart, will be open source code, which means that Donovan's efforts on Chinese Penguin64 could also be leveraged on by manufacturers of other Unix systems such as Hewlett-Packard and IBM, for example, to enter the Chinese Linux-based market.

"If anyone else wants to take our source and try to compile it, they can. But I think it's going to be difficult for them to do so as their systems use different architectures from our UltraSparc-based one. And if the IOS does not help them, it is going to be difficult," Foong said, but noted that he welcomed the competition.

"It'll be a good thing for Linux. The more Linux noise there is out there, the better. It's better for Donovan because then people start to take a look at what we have to offer," he said.

"We are firmly committed to providing a powerful and affordable hardware platform for the thousands of Chinese software programrs and application developers who want to develop their own native Chinese applications," he said. Foong was speaking to over 300 developers, university administrators, and government officials last week at China's Great Hall of the People.

The company has spent over S$420,000 (US$243,000) for development of the Chinese OS, which includes the costs of the machines and consultants, among others.

"We are also committed to our Penguin64 Lab initiative which will supply Donovan 64-bit Linux servers to Chinese universities for their students to use and be trained in 64-bit Linux computing," Foong said. "When they graduate, they will have Linux development skills, which are extremely important because Linux is the fastest-growing Internet OS."

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