Asian Governments Team on Linux Industrial Policy

Industrial policy has long been discredited as an economic strategy in the United States, but not in Asia.

The government of Japan, for example, has always worked closely with companies in IT and consumer electronics to influence corporate winners and losers, but the results have been exceptionally spotty.

While Japan had some major successes in the 1970s, the country has yet to emerge from an economic meltdown that started in the early 1990s, despite plenty of government intervention.

There They Go Again

But the Japanese are at it again, this time in the Linux operating system space.

Japan, China and South Korea are this week expected to reach an agreement to jointly develop a new operating system based on Linux as a commercial alternative to Microsoft’s Windows, although there are several commercial Linux offerings for companies to choose from presently, and struggling companies, like Paris-based MandrakeSoft, finally are emerging from bankruptcy.

Japan’s Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Takeo Hiranuma last fall first broached the idea at a meeting of economic and trade ministers as part of a proposal to “promote economic cooperation” among China, South Korea and Japan, LinuxInsider has learned.

Major corporations, including Hitachi, NEC and Matsushita Electric Industrial, are buying into the idea and planning to attend a meeting this weekend with government ministers to sign off on the project.

Faulty Reasoning?

Participants in the project believe a government effort is needed in Asia to bolster Linux as an alternative to Microsoft’s Windows because of concerns there that Windows is not as secure as Linux against viruses.

Concerns about Windows were fueled recently by a report in the Japanese business newspaper The Daily Yomiuri.

But if that is the sole reason for putting the weight of the government and major corporations behind Linux, the developers may need to rethink their strategy, at least according to some analysts. A report by Forrester indicates Linux and Windows are equally secure — so a move to Linux for purely security-related reasons might not be the soundest strategy.

The report by Laura Koetzle is called “Is Linux More Secure Than Windows?” Koetzle’s answer to that question is “no.”

To determine the security of Windows and Linux, Forrester collected security vulnerability data for the period between June 1, 2002, and May 31, 2003, using public data sources such as the Bugtraq mailing list, bugzilla.org and others.

Government in the Way?

The research consultancy then created metrics to measure how well each operating system vendor responded with fixes to vulnerabilities. Forrester found Microsoft did the best job at patching vulnerabilities quickly, with RedHat, Debian and MandrakeSoft far behind.

The meeting of Asian government ministers and corporate executives in Beijing this weekend to sign the Linux agreement comes in the wake of the Forrester report.

Some observers think it would be better for Asian governments to focus on getting out of the way of companies, rather than trying to direct the marketplace from their bureaucratic offices.

“The government doesn’t create economic growth,” John Berthoud, president of the National Taxpayers Union, a conservative grassroots lobbying group in Washington, D.C., told LinuxInsider in an interview.

“But the government can remove barriers and let individuals and businesses do the things that provide for economic growth.”

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