China has long been seen as a fertile ground for Linux and other open source software. In a country where more than 90% of software in use is pirated, it seems like a natural fit. Chinese entrepreneurs can use open source as a foundation for a new generation of home grown applications and services. Yet the proliferation of Chinese Linux distributions was a worry. If they weren't compatible with each other, the opportunity could be lost to create a rich open source ecosystem.

Well, that worry seems to have been resolved. On Jan. 13 in Beijing (still the 12th in NYC, where I am), the government and the Free Standards Group--an open-source outfit from San Francisco--announced an initiative to get all Chinese Linux distributions to comply with the Linux Standards Base. That's a core set of common elements that assures that a Linux application will run on multiple versions of Linux.

I reached Free Standards Group Executive Director Jim Zemlin on his cell phone minutes before he participated in the announcement in Beijing. He told me 80 Chinese journalists were waiting for the press conference to begin. "As a result of what we're doing in China, five or 10 years from now you'll have a healthy ecosystem of Linux providers who will be a true alternative to a proprietary operating system." Meaning Microsoft's Windows.

The Chinese Electronics Standardization Institute and the Free Standard Group teamed up to create a certification lab in Beijing. Any Chinese group with its own Linux distribution can use the lab. As of now, Zemlin says, the main distributions in China are compliant with the standard--including Red Flag, CS2C, and Asianux.

One more little bite taken out of mighty Microsoft.

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