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Superpower: China's Choices Echo Around The World

When the Chinese government makes technology decisions, it impacts businesses around the world.
When the Chinese government makes technology decisions, it impacts businesses around the world. "China's always wondering, 'Are we going to have our own standards, or are we going to follow world standards?'" says Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. "And it's one of the few countries that's absolutely big enough to go through that kind of a process."

What China will do about wireless standards and Linux are important tech issues for the rest of the world today.

Major North American tech vendors are betting Beijing would like to see Linux as the dominant operating system there. IBM recently struck an alliance with Kingsoft, China's biggest office-automation-software vendor, to develop desktop Linux applications. Sun Microsystems is awaiting U.S. export approval to proceed in a deal with China Standard Software Co. to sell Sun's Java Desktop System. Through its majority-owned Miracle Linux, Oracle is working with Red Flag Software of China to develop Asianux, designed to create a common Linux kernel for Asia.

Ballmer, however, contends China is getting more comfortable with Windows, citing the country's Ministry of Information Industry's recent support of .Net.

Most contentious, though, is China's approach to Internet protocols, encryption, and wireless.

Positive signs include the Internet Software Consortium, along with China Netcom, installing in Beijing a mirror of one of the Internet's 13 root servers that provide domain name services, which should improve China's Internet speed and reliability. The Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Computing Technology is pushing IPv6 as the country's standard Internet protocol, a standard major North American tech vendors are testing.

More controversial is China's promotion of a wireless encryption standard that foreign chipmakers would have to license from Chinese companies. The Chinese government licensed its Wired Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure technology to Chinese vendors, including Legend Group, Huawei Technologies, and ZTE Group. As of June 1, foreign manufacturers of wireless LAN products must license that technology to sell them in China.

Differing standards would hurt business-technology users. "If you can't use laptops with Intel Centrino chips in China, then you have to come up with a whole new sourcing strategy just for that geography," says Technology Business Research analyst Brooks Gray. "That's not very cost-effective."

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Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
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