IBM has revealed that it is considering a plan to support an open source software distribution known as Red Flag Linux from Beijing-based Red Flag Software as part of its long-term strategy in China.
Red Flag would be the third Linux distribution supported by IBM and its approximately 300 software applications. The firm’s offerings are currently compatible with distributions from open source software market leaders Red Hat and Novell.
Red Flag, which touts itself as the largest Linux vendor in China, is widely viewed as a key to the burgeoning Chinese market. China and the rest of the Asia-Pacific market have a long history of regional-based Linux distributions, based largely on local language and characters.
China joins much of the rest of Asia with a strong preference for and reliance on Linux — the main alternative to Microsoft’s Windows — for operating systems, both at the desktop and server level.
While Red Flag has worked with U.S. vendors and groups such as the Open Source Development Labs, the firm has grown up largely providing regional versions of Linux.
Raising Red Flag
While there is no doubt about China’s pro-Linux stance — the open source operating system is used extensively by the government and often required by regional rules — there are still uncertainties, including licensing and software piracy issues.
However, in contrast to the U.S., where a desktop Linux market remains elusive, Red Flag has enjoyed success on the desktop with its Linux operating system, and has recently set its sites on the server side of the market, according to Red Flag President Chris Zhao.
IBM said it is unlikely that it would also back other Linux flavors such as Gentoo, Ubuntu and Debian because of the cost and difficulty of doing so. For each distribution it adds, the firm must conduct extensive testing and refinement with each of its software applications.
“Even if there was more commonality among distributions … there’s still a cost associated with certification,” Illuminata Senior Analyst Gordon Haff told LinuxInsider.
For that reason, despite IBM’s announcement, neither Red Flag nor any other alternative Linux distribution is likely to get widespread industry support anytime soon at the level currently enjoyed by Red Hat and Novell, Haff noted.
Vendors are inclined to make major moves such as adding support for alternative operating systems if and when they see a business case for those moves, he said. A number of Linux distributions may enjoy popularity and even support from big vendors in specialized cases; currently, however there is little incentive for users or vendors to have more to deal with.
“A company like Oracle looks at it and says, ‘What’s in it for me,'” Haff said. “I don’t see dynamics out there that create incentive to create Red Hat enterprise-level support for five different distributions.”