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Last Updated: Monday, 8 September, 2003, 15:19 GMT 16:19 UK
East Asia plans Windows rival
Companies on Tokyo's Ginza street
Japan hopes top companies will take up the new system
China, South Korea and Japan are to boost joint research into a new computer operating system to rival Microsoft Windows.

The project, expected to be open-source software, was proposed by Japan and is intended to give a helping hand to Windows rivals, such as Linux.

The Japanese Government has already earmarked one billion yen (US$85.5m) for the project.

"Japan does not have the intention of rejecting a certain product," a spokesman for Japan's Minister of Trade, Takeo Hiranuma, said.

"However Microsoft Windows dominates everywhere, although people also want to test different products. Therefore it is important to work on alternatives."

Software alternatives

The official added that top officials of the Ministries of Trade from Japan, China and South Korea will come together for a further meeting later in September.

An open-source software forum will then be set up by major Japanese electronics companies such as Hitachi, Matsushita, NEC and Fujitsu, to establish what they need from the alternative software.

The philosophy behind Linux is one of providing an operating system for the people and by the people
Bill Thompson, technology analyst
However, Japanese officials confirmed that they planned more to work with current Windows alternatives than building a new system entirely from scratch.

"The idea is to get existing non-Windows operating systems, such as Linux, to be more broadly used, rather than developing a totally new operating system," said ministry official Takashi Kume.

He added that it was hoped development of a Windows alternative would allow manufacturers more choice.

Recent problems regarding viruses that attacked Windows software have shown to the three countries the risk of relying on a single software product.

Elsewhere in the region, Malaysia's technology minister has given his country's endorsement to Linux, which can be copied and modified freely.

The open source system is considered cheaper than Windows, although it does require money to be spent on support installing and running the system.

Fixing Windows

"It's that version of Linux which is starting to worry Microsoft, which is why they're so concerned when national governments start endorsing Linux, start offering money to develop mew Linux programmes," said technology analyst Bill Thompson.

Linux advert
Linux is already popular in China
National governments, Mr Thompson added, were realising the benefits that come to them of using Linux-type systems, not only in terms of cost and reliability, but also because they have control.

"The philosophy behind Linux is one of providing an operating system for the people and by the people," Mr Thompson told BBC World Service's East Asia Today programme.

"It's developed by a team of dedicated developers, it's given away for nothing, so anyone who wants it can use it.

"If you are the Japanese Government and you're installing Microsoft software on all of your systems, if anything goes wrong with it it's up to Microsoft to fix it, you have to rely on them and their programmers.

"If you've installed Linux, your programmers can actually get in there, find the problems and fix them themselves."

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