China versus Microsoft

China versus Microsoft

The NSA tomfoolery continues to be a major impedance to US companies wanting to do business abroad. Yesterday, I talked about how a lazy Obama administration is hampering surveillance reforms, and what Microsoft is doing to try to push things along, and while we wait, the legal system's laggard response is causing even more problems.

At least one province in China is reportedly banishing Windows 8 from its borders. On state-run China Central Television (CCTV) on Wednesday, newscasters interviewed a Chinese computer-science professor who eluded to Windows 8's security features being developed with backdoors and that this "poses a big challenge to the national strategy for information security." Forget for a moment that China is the world leader in Windows XP usage and software piracy.

The full CCTV transcript can be found on the Wall Street Journal business page:  How Bad is Microsoft’s China Problem? Read the State TV Transcript

To take it further, CCTV reported that the Central Government Procurement Center would start excluding Windows 8 from the purchase of energy-efficient computers.

Kathy Roeder, a spokesperson for Microsoft, weight in shortly after hearing the news:

Our Government Security Program allows governments to review our source code to confirm there are no back doors. Customers around the world have evaluated and embraced Windows 8 as our most secure operating system.

Microsoft is still working to set the record straight with the Chinese government. However, the company has even more to surmount with Beijing recently complaining about the high cost of Windows 8 and several local governments opting to just develop their own operating systems, rumored to be customized forks of the Linux OS.

Some of you might know, but I periodically spend a good amount of time in China. I speak Mandarin, spend a lot of time with different ethnic groups, and have a unique understanding of the people and the culture. It's one of my most favorite places to be on Earth. While many look at this news in disbelief, it doesn't surprise me at all and really speaks to the country's rich, if somewhat strange, history.

Over its history, China has gone from a very closed society, to a an open, seemingly welcoming one, and back and forth again and again. When the country opens its borders, its only intent is to glean what it needs before shutting them down once more. The Silk Road, open during the Han Dynasty between 206 BC and 220 AD, was a trade route that allowed goods and services to flow through China, but at the same time provided a conduit for many different cultures to seep in. It was the infectious culture enrichment that was a major part of why China closed its doors to the Silk Road. China's own culture started to become diluted enough that the government felt it was losing control over the people, and shut down activity in the trade route, thereby closing down its borders to the rest of the world.

China was a closed society for centuries. Historically, each time the country closed its borders the culture became stagnate, wages dropped lower, and the lower classes became poorer and poorer.  Only by opening its borders to allow free flow of trade and information could the country fix the economic problems.

Today, China is open again. The country uses the Internet like a modern day Silk Road. Over the past couple decades the country has developed techniques and gathered expertise to grow its wealth. This has culminated in copycat products like iPhones and search engines and lofted it as a leader in pirated software. China is learning. The borders are open. We hear about US cyber intrusions by Chinese government sanctioned attacks. But, really, it's less about attacking and more about information gathering. It is taking what it needs to survive another few centuries. And, with new perceived threats from the NSA, all the hints are there that the country might be feeling like it has gleaned enough and could be preparing to drop out of sight again.

The Windows 8 fiasco is just an excuse. Mark my words, there's actually something much bigger going on here.

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