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China's Latest Homegrown Flop

Robert Clark
News Analysis
Robert Clark

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.

Previous flops
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

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R Clark
R Clark,
User Rank: Blogger
1/30/2014 | 1:50:29 AM
Re: Not-so-ancient wisdom
Sarah, you're not the only one to have missed out on the legend of Ruhan Jia:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25910722

Interesting parallel with tennis player Li Na, who's become the oldest woman to win the Australian Open. She was allowed to exit the state system six years ago, and since has won two Grand Slams. A lot of chatter in China about how successful she would have been if she'd gone solo earlier. 

The chatter about COS is much more scathing - a lot of people just calling it a direct copy. It is odd that they went to market without any partners or trials to speak of. Amateur hour.


User Rank: Moderator
1/29/2014 | 3:45:26 PM
I've heard that COS stands for Copy Other System. If it is an Android knock off, or even if it just uses some pieces from Android, it is open source, so that's not such a big deal. That's what Amazon does with their Kindle Fire. But if HTC is involved, I wonder if they would get in trouble with Google.

It reminds me of Red Flag Linux, China's official Linux that is an offshoot of Red Hat.  
Sarah Thomas
Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
1/29/2014 | 12:43:15 PM
Re: Not-so-ancient wisdom
I do think alternative OSs have an opportunity to make an impact in markets like China, but, um, not this government-backed one. Strange.

In other news, tell me more about these Beyonce-challenging pop stars.
User Rank: Light Sabre
1/29/2014 | 9:44:44 AM
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