‘ Death’ of XP a warn­ing for China

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

April 8 marked the end of Mi­crosoft’s sup­port to Win­dows XP. Af­ter re­leas­ing its last two of­fi­cial patches, Mi­crosoft stopped patch­ing se­cu­rity holes in its 12-year-old op­er­at­ing sys­tem. This leaves Win­dows XP users open to cy­ber at­tacks, which will nei­ther be in­ves­ti­gated nor fixed.

The news is shock­ing, to say the least, for the more than 200 mil­lion Win­dows XP users in China. Al­though the ex­piry of Win­dows XP is not nec­es­sar­ily a deadly blow to Chi­nese users, as many me­dia out­lets say, the uni­lat­eral ter­mi­na­tion of the ser­vice is im­proper and in­fringes upon the rights of le­gal Win­dows XP users.

Sev­eral do­mes­tic an­tivirus soft­ware mak­ers have said they will con­tinue pro­vid­ing sup­port to com­put­ers that use XP, even thoughMi­crosoft has an­nounced that an­tivirus soft­ware may not be very ef­fec­tive with­out a con­tin­u­ously up­dated op­er­at­ing sys­tem. Mi­crosoft is right, but in re­al­ity only a fewviruses can breach an­tivirus pro­tec­tion shields. The “panda burn­ing in­cense” which in­vaded many com­put­ers in Jan­uary 2007 is a rare ex­am­ple of an all-pow­er­ful virus.

Mi­crosoft has acted ir­re­spon­si­bly by with­draw­ing sup­port to XP and leav­ing users to fend for them­selves, which will dam­age the IT gi­ant’s im­age. Mi­crosoft has cited the terms and con­di­tions agreed by XP users to claim that it re­served the right to end the ser­vice. But the terms and con­di­tions were framed by the IT gi­ant with­out con­sult­ing the con­sumers. No won­der, in July last year, Guo Li, a Win­dows XP user in Zhengzhou, He­nan prov­ince, won an eight-year-long case again­stMi­crosoft and got four ar­ti­cles in the users’ agree­ment in­val­i­dated be­cause they en­abled it to avoid re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

For many people, the “death” of Win­dows XP is not only a warn­ing against Chi­nese people’s over-re­liance on US in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, but also a wake-up call to the Chi­nese IT in­dus­try to de­sign and pro­mote its own soft­ware.

For­tu­nately, cy­ber se­cu­rity is not a prob­lem for govern­ment and mil­i­tary de­part­ments, and some en­ter­prises be­cause they store their con­fi­den­tial in­for­ma­tion in com­put­ers that are not con­nected to the In­ter­net de­spite op­er­at­ing on XP. Phys­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion, as it is called, is be­yond the cross­ing abil­ity of hack­ers.

The “black episode” of 2008, in whichMi­crosoft turned the mon­i­tor screens of un­ver­i­fied XP users black to pro­tect its copy­right, must be fresh in many people’s minds. Two years ear­lier, the US Depart­ment ofHome­land Se­cu­rity had warned US com­puter users that the Win­dows sys­tem might have a “back­door” that al­lowedMi­crosoft to in­trude users’ com­put­ers. The IT gi­ant de­nied it but later it was con­firmed that Win­dows Phone 7, its op­er­at­ing sys­tem for smart­phones, also has a back­door. These in­ci­dents show how in­ci­sive is the tech­nol­ogy thatMi­crosoft uses.

China should there­fore, re­al­ize the dis­ad­van­tages of be­ing over-de­pen­dent on for­eign op­er­at­ing sys­tems. China’s “phys­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion” ar­range­ment may be ef­fec­tive against in­tru­sion, but it causes in­con­ve­nience by block­ing nec­es­sary soft­ware up­dates on com­put­ers.

China has no com­puter op­er­at­ing sys­tem of its own with full in­tel­lec­tual property rights. Its op­er­at­ing sys­tems, like Red Flag Linux, have been de­vel­oped on open-source cores of­fered by for­eign soft­ware mak­ers that come with set rules. The same ap­plies to other in­tel­li­gent ter­mi­nals, too. China is the world’s big­gest pro­ducer of in­tel­li­gent ter­mi­nals like smart­phones, tablets, and even smart TV sets and wear­able in­tel­li­gent de­vices. But most of them run on one of the three op­er­at­ing sys­tems: iOS of Ap­ple, Win­dows ofMi­crosoft, and An­droid of Google.

In a re­cent in­ter­view, Ni Guang­nan, an aca­demic with the China Academy of En­gi­neer­ing, talked about two neg­a­tives of China’s in­tel­li­gent ter­mi­nal pro­duc­tion: first, China gets a very small share of the prof­its for lack of IPR, and, sec­ond, se­cu­rity of its user data can­not be guar­an­teed be­cause of the for­eign op­er­at­ing sys­tems. But China is in a long way from de­vel­op­ing a to­tally new­op­er­at­ing sys­tem, which needs an ef­fi­cient and re­li­able core, large num­bers of driv­ers, and nu­mer­ous changes to suit the ad­vance­ment in hard­ware. In fact, the cost may be too high for China’s IT in­dus­try to af­ford.

Be­sides, even if China suc­ceeded in de­vel­op­ing an ad­vanced op­er­at­ing sys­tem, it might end up be­ing used mostly by govern­ment agencies rather than by in­di­vid­u­als.

A com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful op­er­at­ing sys­tem needs the sup­port of com­pat­i­ble hard­ware. Only if a user can con­ve­niently run his/her soft­ware on a re­li­able com­puter can he/she choose the op­er­at­ing sys­tem. The global mo­nop­oly of Win­dows, which lasted decades, has much to do with the pop­u­lar­iza­tion of PCs; iOS also owes its rise over the past fewyears to the rev­o­lu­tion­ary Ap­ple prod­ucts such as iPad, iPhone andMac­book. There­fore, it won’t be easy for China to de­velop a com­pletely new­op­er­at­ing sys­tem and com­pete for a big slice of the mar­ket, es­pe­cially be­cause it has to mas­ter the ap­pli­ca­tion of IT as well as de­velop a fool­proof mar­ket­ing strat­egy.

Al­though ear­lier this year the Chi­nese Academy of Sci­ences said it had de­vel­oped a new sys­tem for smart­phones, PCs and tablets, its painstak­ing ef­forts show how dif­fi­cult it is to chal­lenge the three global IT gi­ants.

But China has to ease, if not to­tally end, its re­liance on for­eign op­er­at­ing sys­tems by de­vel­op­ing one in­dige­nously even if it can­not im­me­di­ately com­pete for a share of the global mar­ket. The au­thor is a writer with China Daily. zhangzhoux­i­ang@chi­nadaily.com.cn

LI FENG / CHINA DAILY

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