Homeless in Vancouver: China bans Windows 8 from government PCs

The government of China, the number one buyer of personal computers in China—the world’s largest market for PC sales—has just announced it will not buy any computers running Windows 8.

China’s official news agency Xinhua is blaming Windows XP, saying Windows 8 has been banned from government machines to avoid a future Microsoft-dictated end-of-support crisis.

The ban was announced Friday (May 16) on the Central State Government Procurement Office website as part of a notice amending the requirement that all tendered computer hardware be the latest energy-saving models. Item five of the bullet list states:

“All computer products are not allowed to install Windows 8 operating system.”

Windows 8 really is a complete waste of energy

Commentators have questioned how the ban on Windows 8 is related to the use of energy-savings products.

Silly rabbits! China is clearly saying it doesn’t want to waste any energy on a proprietary operating system it has absolutely no control over!

The other thing China wants desperately to be able to say—has wanted to for the last 14 years—is that Microsoft needs China more than China needs Microsoft.

China has repeatedly tried to break away from its dependency on Microsoft Windows, but that’s been easier said than done.

Throwing down the Red Flag

Back in 2000, Chinese government ministries switched computer operating systemsen masse from  Windows 2000 to Red Flag Linux, a version of Red Hat Linux developed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Back in the day, Red Flag caused quite a stir in the international Linux community, inducing visions of Microsoft losing tens of thousands of Windows installations at a stroke.

However, after 14 years of no growth in usage outside of China and almost no growth in China outside of government ministries, the company set up to manage and promote the Chinese Linux distribution finally folded in February 2014.

There are no statistics (that I can find) on Red Flag usage in China beyond “widely deployed”. Back in 2008, it was widely reported that the Chinese government was forcing Internet cafes to switch to Red Flag rather than use pirated copies of Windows.

Red Flag was styled to closely resemble Windows 2000 and later XP. A 2011 review of Red Flag pointed out that package installation apparently didn’t work outside of China, and contrary to any other version of Linux, it installed giving the user full root privileges, a security weakness it shared with Windows XP.

Nǐ hǎo Ubuntu Kylin!

The quiet announcement banning Windows 8 from Chinese government computers didn’t occurred in a vacuum. Many reports linked the ban to the recent indictment by the United States of five People’s Liberation Army officials on computer espionage charges.

A far more likely connection was to the long-planned April roll-out of the successor to Red Flag, called Ubuntu Kylin, a version of Linux Ubuntu co-developed by Chinese state agencies and Canonical, the South African company that oversees the development of Ubuntu. Ubuntu Kylin is described as a continuation of the Kylin OS originally developed in China around the FreeBSD OS.

Any version of Ubuntu can already be localized to the Chinese language. Ubuntu Kylin is meant to be deeply and truly the Chinese-first operating system that the government of China has been looking for.

The XP killer, better late than never?

Ubuntu Kylin comes pre-installed with what is described as essential Chinese software, including Kingsoft WPS Office and Lotus Instant Messaging, and it has a specially localized version of the Ubuntu Software Center and it works with Sogou Input Method.

Ubuntu Kylin users get 100GB of personal cloud storage with Kingsoft Kuaipan cloud storage and they have lunar calendar support out of the box!

There is support for the newest hardware, including touch screens and HiDPI monitors, and…”it runs beautifully on all kinds of hardware.”

If that last bit wasn’t aimed at recalcitrant Chinese users of a certain XPired Windows operating system, then this next bit is.

Ubuntu Kylin comes with the Youker assistant, described as a “simple yet powerful tool built to help Windows users migrate to Ubuntu as quickly and as smoothly as possible.”

The irony of China banning Windows 8 is delicious. Among Chinese people, the number eight is considered especially lucky (Baat! Baat!).

It may be for them but it certainly hasn’t been for Microsoft.

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