Meet the Chinese operating system that’s trying to shift the country off Windows
Union Tech is ramping up work on its UOS Linux distribution by recruiting 5,000 people to work on it and using Chinese-made chips
China’s homegrown operating systems haven’t made much of a dent on the global stage. Now there’s a Linux-based system that’s aimed at weaning the country off Windows.
UOS, or Unified Operating System, hit a new milestone after its first stable release in January: Union Tech’s OS can now boot in 30 seconds on China-made chips.
It’s an important step as Chinese tech companies look to reduce their dependence on US-made software and hardware. The struggles of ZTE and Huawei illustrate this clearly: The former was reliant on chips made in the US to produce smartphones, while the latter has the difficult task of selling Android handsets outside China without Google apps or services.
The “current international climate” has made it imperative for China to have its own foundational software to avoid being cut off by the US, said the general manager of Union Tech, Liu Wenhan. While Chinese operating systems currently account for less than 1% of the market, Liu said he expects them to grow to 20% to 30% in the future.
Integrating homegrown Chinese chips could be the biggest accomplishment of UOS if it pans out. Although Chinese computer chips still don’t approach the sophistication of those created by US-based companies, Union Tech said that it is actively working with Chinese chipmakers like Loongson and Sunway to facilitate the gradual replacement of American technology in the Chinese government and pillar industries. In December, Beijing ordered all government offices and public institutions to remove foreign computer equipment and software within three years, according to the Financial Times.
UOS is based on the Deepin operating system, China’s most successful Linux distribution. Union Tech actually started as a joint venture between state-run corporations and Wuhan Deepin Technology. It eventually acquired Deepin, and Deepin founder Liu Wenhan became Union Tech’s general manager.
Liu has experience with building operating systems. Since launching in 2011, the OS has amassed an active community of users.
Deepin appeals to many Linux enthusiasts because of a user interface that copies liberally from other operating systems. It has a dock, launchpad and file browser that are similar to those in macOS. It also has Android-style notifications and control panels. And it includes a Windows-style start button.
Deepin also has a full-fledged app store where users can find popular Linux programs. But this turned out to be a source of controversy when users found out the store sends some client information such as the browser user agent to CNZZ, a Chinese analytics company likened to Google Analytics. Deepin responded by saying it wasn’t collecting “private information” and only collected data to improve its “website experience.”
Demos of UOS show that it looks very similar to Deepin. This should help make it more accessible to users as Union Tech seeks to help the Chinese government move away from Windows.
Liu said that China missed an opportunity to wean off Windows back in 2014 when Windows XP reached the end of its lifecycle. However, Liu said the conditions weren’t ripe then for China to make such a big switch. But China is ready this time, he said.
“The China-made operating system is now basically ready,” Liu said. “Although it cannot be replaced 100% seamlessly, it can already meet the core needs of users.”