Dirk Hohndel, Chief Linux and Open Source Technologist at Intel, gave a talk centered on the evolution of open source in China for a lunch meeting of the China Business Network of the NW China Council on December 3. Mike Rogoway of The Oregonian has coverage on his blog, so I’ll try to complement what he had to say about it.
Dirk emphasized that he was representing his own views; not Intel’s. They reflect his involvement as a committer to Linux and related open source projects since 1991, his frequent participation in fostering open source in China over the past several years, and a clearly articulated vision of open source as a natural continuation of the way humanity has evolved the state of knowledge over the past 300 years by building on the work of peers and predecessors.
From this perspective, selling software executables without access to source, which started in the late 1970’s, was an aberration not only from the previous practice of delivering source code with the sale of computers, but also from a longer history of the progress of knowledge.
In China, there was initially a perception that open source software was almost too good to be true by people looking for short term profit. They could include it for free, bundled with a computer or other device they charged for, or just put a “brand” on a disk and sell it. According to Dirk, for example, there were many failed attempts to put a brand on the code of the open source OpenOffice.org project and sell it without source as a cheaper flavor of Microsoft Office.
Within the past 3-4 years, Dirk said, there has been a change in China to true open source participation for the long term by companies, organizations, and individuals, as they have learned that open source creates more value when you do not disconnect from the value chain. Now companies like Red Flag, CS2C, and Sun Wah have become active in open source; and Chinese government ministries and universities have started to become important Linux and open source drivers.