Nanchang, the capital of China's eastern Jiangxi province, has required Internet cafe operators to replace pirated server software with licensed versions. Cafes that don't will lose their license to operate, but some are grumbling about the cost of installing legitimate software.
"What has the world come to, when no leaders will come forward to speak out on behalf of Internet owners like us," wrote one user on a Jiangxi discussion forum (in Chinese).
"When you talk to officials from the Culture Department, they tell you, 'If you're willing to pay, pay; if not, you have the option not to pay.' Hearing words like that turns your heart cold. We really can't make a living," the user said.
Chinese news reports estimated that up to 600 Internet cafes in Nanchang, a city of around 4 million people, are affected by the order, which aims to stamp out the use of pirated software in local Internet cafes.
Despite Western news reports that Nanchang officials aim to stop Internet cafes from using legitimate copies of Windows, the government order for Internet cafes to install legitimate software appears to affect only users running pirated software and suggests Windows as one option for purchasing licensed software.
"We recommend the use of Red Flag Linux server operating system or Microsoft Windows Server operating system," said the directive issued by Nanchang's Cultural Department on Oct. 22. Copies of the order (page 1, page 2 and page 3, (in Chinese) were posted online by Chinese Internet users.
Officials at Nanchang's Cultural Department could not immediately be reached for comment.
Software piracy is a widespread problem in China. Even when users don't install pirated software themselves, whitebox PC makers and other retailers often preload pirated software instead of legitimate versions on PCs and servers. The Business Software Alliance, a trade group established to fight software piracy, estimated that the rate of software piracy in China was 82 percent in 2007, the most recent figure available.
As part of Nanchang's crackdown on pirated software, officials apparently struck a deal with a local Red Flag Linux distributor to install licensed software and provide two years of support for 5,000 yuan (US$725).
"We're using domestically produced Red Flag software, and have set a standard one-time fee of 5,000 yuan for each Internet cafe, which includes a lifetime license, and we will provide all Internet cafe owners two years of maintenance support for free," said Ren Xiaojie, general manager of a software distribution company, quoted in a report (in Chinese) by Jiangxi Television's City Channel.
Red Flag Linux is a version of the Asianux Linux distribution, jointly developed by China's Red Flag, South Korea's Haansoft, and Miracle Linux, of Japan. The desktop version of the software is free, but Red Flag and its distributors charge users for the server version, as well as for support to help companies install and manage the software.
Some Internet cafe owners were unhappy with the fee, and complained they are prevented from using other Linux distributions.
"You have to install Red Flag Linux, and pay 5,000 yuan," complained one user on the Jiangxi discussion forum (in Chinese). "If you are using a different Linux distribution, they just say it's pirated!"