Leave it to Microsoft to bring together three countries that spent a good part of the twentieth century slaughtering one another's citizens.
That's the story in Asia, where the governments of China, South Korea and Japan recently agreed to develop a Linux-based operating system. The idea is to give government and business users in the three countries a practical, low-cost alternative to Windows, tailored to meet their language and other region-specific requirements.
For government users in the three countries, LInux has become increasingly popular due to its reputation for security as well as the fact that it provides one of the few real alternatives to the Microsoft monopoly. The Chinese government has an additional reason to love Linux: persistent (if vaguely nutty) rumors that Windows is riddled with code that would allow the U.S. government to disable Chinese computers in case of war.
Conspiracy theories aside, Linux could lay the foundation for the three countries' rapidly growing software development industries. All three countries plan to offer the software, which should be ready in six months, for free to developers who can then use it to create commercial products. In addition to server and desktop software, the coalition also plans to develop applications using the same model.
The Chinese software industry is still tiny by western standards, currently worth around $3 billion. But with a growth rate topping 20 percent a year and an enormous potential market, there's a lot of money to be made here--or lost, if you're a Microsoft sales executive watching this all go down.
Microsoft will still make plenty of money in its Asian markets, even as it deals with paranoid Chinese bureaucrats and armies of impudent software pirates. But with Linux already claiming a significant and rapidly growing market share in the three countries, the company might find that a hard sell just got a little harder.