For years, the “year of the Linux desktop” was right around the corner: Open-source software would displace Windows (or Window$), and usher in a glorious, peaceful revolution in the computing industry.
If Dell is to be believed, that revolution is happening now.
Dell’s head of China told The Wall Street Journal that NeoKylin Linux is shipped on 42 percent of the PCs it sells into the country, primarily for the commercial and government PCs that Dell specializes in. Hewlett-Packard also ships NeoKylin-equipped PCs to China, the paper said, but it’s unclear how many they sell with the OS installed.
In 2010, China Standard Software and the National University of Defense Technology teamed up to launch NeoKylin as a secure alternative to foreign software, such as Windows. (A screenshot of the original Kylin Linux is above.) TechinAsia claims that NeoKylin was based on Ubuntu Kylin, which was developed for the Chinese by Canonical.
Western companies can do business in China, but they tend to be granted access only if they partner or invest in a Chinese firm. A separate WSJ article noted that Dell said it would partner with Kingsoft in China to develop cloud-computing solutions, but the article noted discrepancies over which company planned to own the data users stored there.
Chinese companies are increasingly taking Western investment and designing products that compete with their Western rivals, the article notes—and a good example of that is how Linux competes with Windows.
Globally, the market share of Linux is tiny—just 1.6 percent, according to NetMarketshare, and it’s remained at that level for years. However, it’s found specialized niches in certain areas, such as powering China’s Tianhe supercomputers.
It’s worth noting, as the WSJ does, that Windows has been heavily pirated overseas. Is it possible that Dell is selling a PC with NeoKylin installed, and then Windows is surreptitiously added later? That's certainly possible—although the fact that these are being sold for government use would seem to make that less likely.
Why this matters: Is the day of Linux dawning? Probably not, at least not in United States desktop PCs. But Linux aficionados know that that their OS is unsurpassed as far as allowing users control over basically any component of the system. And to the Chinese, that level of control is apparently quite appealing.