China's Latest Homegrown Flop
As China believes it can manufacture a global pop star to challenge the likes of Rihanna and Beyonce, it should come as no surprise that it has also developed a device operating system that, it hopes, can challenge Android and iOS.
But the release of the government-backed COS (China Operating System) hasn't exactly gone to plan.
The cross-platform OS has come in for such a public mauling that the state press has had to come to its defense.
Newspapers and social media have queried the similarities between COS and an implementation of Android by High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC) (Taiwan: 2498), as well as the number of apps available and the level of government support.
Official Communist Party mouthpiece, People's Daily, has published a Q&A article answering what it called "seven major suspicions" concerning the COS.
The responses were attributed to software firm Shanghai Liantong, a spin-off government software research institute ISCAS. The company says the two organizations jointly developed COS without any external input.
However, the Wall Street Journal said it had learned that HTC engineers had been deeply involved in the project. It had previously reported, in August 2013, that HTC had been developing an operating system for Chinese consumers.
In response to criticisms over COS's similarity to the HTC offering, Shanghai Liantong said it had had "exchanges" with a number of handset firms, including Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), Lenovo Group Ltd. (Hong Kong: 992), and HTC. It said some vendors had adapted their hardware platforms to COS, though it did not name them.
The company said an inventory of more than 100,000 apps had been enabled by the deployment of a Java Virtual Machine, which allows Java apps to run on COS.
It also said that while it had been set up in 2012 by ISCAS and other investors, it had not received state research funds.
The company's ambition is for COS to be used as a platform in mobile devices, PCs and set-top boxes, "depending on national strategic needs and market needs."
But the hostile reception shows that as well as battling to displace existing platforms, such as Windows, Android and iOS, it has to win over the Chinese general public, which is often impatient with grand government schemes.
Its plight recalls previous government initiatives, such as the computer web filter Green Dam, which crashed and burned within weeks of announcement, and the wireless security standard WAPI, which the government tried to make mandatory on all wireless equipment.
The biggest of all of these was TD-SCDMA, the 3G standard created with the aim of avoiding foreign patent fees and for which the development cost was foisted on China Mobile Ltd. subscribers.
COS is being offered as a secure alternative to foreign operating systems in the wake of the Snowden revelations. Yet even with official imprimatur it has yet to win a single government agency or handset vendor, even as a trial partner.
Government-backed pop stars might fare better.
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading