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Chinese working on a home operating system

by on13 December 2019

Part of the glorious plan to rip out foreign software

The two biggest OS (operating system) makers in China announced plans last week to unite and jointly build a new "domestic operating system".

According to ZDNET the two companies are China Standard Software (CS2C) and Tianjin Kylin Information (TKC), two of China's largest software firms, with known ties to the Beijing government. Both companies are known on the local Chinese OS market. CS2C created "China's Windows XP clone", known as the NeoKylin OS, and TKC is the current steward of Kylin, China's first-ever homegrown operating system.

CS2C and TKC plan to set up a new company in which they'll become investors, and through which the new joint OS will be developed. The company will handle the new operating system's development, technological decisions, marketing, branding, financials, and sales. The current Kylin and NeoKylin operating systems will serve as a base for the new OS, the pair said.

Kylin was created in 2001 by academics at the National University of Defense Technology and was based on FreeBSD and was developed via the popular 863 Program, a government fund set up in the 80s to stimulate the development of local tech to help China reach independence from foreign technologies.

The FreeBSD version of Kylin OS was never truly successful. It was deployed on some Chinese military networks, but not all, and was never adopted beyond academia and research projects.

In 2016, when a Chinese student going by the nickname of Dancefire revealed that the Kylin creators copied large chunks of code from FreeBSD v5.3, with little to no modifications, with code similarities reaching a whopping 99.45 percent between the two projects.

A new version, developed on top of the Linux kernel, was released in 2009, and in 2014, development passed from the National University of Defense Technology to the newly-founded TKC.

TKC broadened Kylin's development, and there are now Kylin versions for desktops, servers, and embedded devices, under both commercial and free licenses.

These Linux-based versions of Kylin were far more successful than the FreeBSD versions, and they've also been used to power the Tianhe-1 and Tianhe-2, the fastest supercomputers in the world at the time of their launch in 2010 and 2013, respectively. Currently, both supercomputers run a Kylin OS version known as Galaxy Kylin.

The news about the new jointly-developed "domestic OS" comes as the Beijing government is executing a second push to get rid of foreign tech, amidst an ever-escalating trade war with the United States.

The FT reported that Beijing had ordered all government offices and public institutions to replace foreign-made hardware and software with Chinese alternatives by 2022 as part of a new national policy named "3-5-2".

While Kylin and NeoKylin have a common codebase, they are different. Kylin is focused primarily on servers and cloud deployments, while NeoKylin has historically focused on supporting as many platforms as possible. NeoKylin is the only Chinese-made OS to support all six major "domestic CPUs" -- namely Feiteng, Godson, Zhaoxin, Shenwei, Haiguang, and Kunpeng.

Apps that run on Kylin won't run on NeoKylin, and vice-versa, creating problems with managing a nation-wide IT system without unwanted friction and incompatibilities.

With a plan to rip out all foreign hardware and software from government systems within three years, it looks like  Beijing banged the two companies heads together to unite the two OSes into a common platform.

Last modified on 13 December 2019
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