Interview with Professor Souqun Lu: Open Source Software Innovation in China (Meego, Android and beyond)

Last month, China Computer World Magazine, IT168 (China top IT portal), Daily News of Communication Industry and China Software and Information Service Magazine, co-interviewed Professor Lu Shouqun on  open source software innovation status in China.  Professor Lu is chairman of China Open Source Software Promotion Union (COSSPU), and  honorary president of China Linux University Promotion Alliance (CLUPA). He is also  adviser for Beijing Municipal government and China State Information Center, and is senior information technology consultant for China Huaneng Group, Corporation chairman for China Great Wall Computer Group and adviser of Open Source Development Labs. He also served as deputy director of the China State Council Information Office. Below is detail of media's coverage on this interview and  Professor Lu's blog on Meego's innovation model, and how it matters to China.

What is Open Source Software

Ridding on the fast blooming of open source development in China, in server, mobile Internet terminal, Internet web sites, high performance computing and embedded categories, the market share for Linux based open source OS has jump to unprecedented level, and open source software has became the major player as more fundamental Internet  backbone software ( operation system, database, middle-ware, and office suites) are developed.

By simple logic, we call any software that can be freely acquired, modified  and source code derived and republished as open source software ( the definition does not involve the commercial purpose of  open source software and other legal implication). Certainly different open source has different degree of freedom and openness. But strictly, by Open Source Initiatives ( OSI), Open source software must meet ten open source codes definition (so called Eric Raymond initiative):

  1. Free Redistribution.

  2. Source Code: all open source software must include source code and guarantee the openness of source code.

  3. Derived Works: Open Source license must allow revise and derive work ( develop and revise based on original software source code)

  4. Integrity of the Author's Source Code: To respect the right of original authors, when revised open source software to be published, it must accompany the original source code.

  5. No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups: keep openness, encourage maximum participation, collaboration and co-authorization.

  6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor. For example, no discrimination against open source software used in security or commercial purpose.

  7. Distribution of License: The license of  open source software apply to all recipients without implementing any limited condition.

  8. License Must Not Be Specific to a Product

  9. License Must Not Restrict Other Software

  10. License Must Be Technology Neutral

We must point out that without  business model and monetization, Open source will have no chance of surviving and becoming a major player, and realizing the production and commercialization; For developing infrastructure software (including those developed using open source infrastructure software), if the software is not self-controllable, the infrastructure software can not be realized or can not guarantee China's national security strategy. Then, the production and promotion to its use will be blocked; To by-pass this potential block, we must explore the innovation of open source software, to meet requirements for developing open source software in  fields such as security and commercial application. Not only should we inherit, promote and realize the value deposition of open and share of open source, but also must we control the potential legal risk of open source software.

What Will be the Future Mobile Operation Systems?

Currently, in global scope, the major mobile phone operation system are Android, Symbian (Open), iOS, Meego, Black Berry OS, Windows Phone(WP), WebOS etc. Among them, 2/3 are open source and 1/3 are proprietorial.

Some mobile computing experts believe that, after fierce competition,  in mobile arena, the mobile OS that can survive maybe not more than 3-4;  From my personal view, I am putting my bid on Android, iOS, and open sourced OS such as Meego that will likely be the top winners.

I have discussed five advantages of Meego in my previous article"Open Source Based Operation System" (Open source, high efficiency in development environment, Open  development environment and architecture, developers from Intel and Nokia QT team,  integrated technologies),  recently there are two additional advantages surfing out:

  1. Meego's simple and near primitive  development environment and application architecture, not as complicated as Android, which stepped on the hidden mine of patent infraction, and lead to $5-15 patent fees that Mobile phone maker GTC and Samsung etc has to pay to Microsoft and Apple . In 2011, there are significant numbers of organizations in different segment ( company, institutions, and government) that are developing customized Android OS. One way of another, Patent infractions will most likely be an agenda item on the table.

  2. The open source nature of Meego and its innovation model is likely the only solution for an open source operation system to be adopted in commercial and security business and government.

What is the difference between Meego and Android

Meego and Android are all open source operation system based on Linux Kernel. The major difference are:

  1. The kernel of Meego is Linux Kernel, so called major distribution kernel released by official Linux Foundation. While Kernel of Android is the branch kernel released by Google, and authorized and approved by Linux Foundation.

  2. Meego uses Qt as it development environment and development framework ( Qt abide the single LGPL Open Source license);  while the development environment of Android is diversified and tangled, adopting development tools and software from multiple sources, and abide different open source licenses, may including hidden patents.

  3. Meego's application frameworks or function modules ( components)  are mostly LGPL open source licenses (there are also small percentage of framework use other open source, but has not private consultations signed mutual beneficial open source agreement).While Android's application frameworks or function modules are based on Apache-2 Open Source License ( including Java virtual layer), and consists of 185 software framework, and use 19 open source licenses ( including many frameworks not approved by OSI, but signed by private limited mutual beneficial open source agreement: Reciprocal). Among them are some unavoidable hidden patent.

  4. Meego and Android independently develop and design its own user interface (UI) based on different mobile terminal device (such as Smart phone, Tablet, IVI and Internet TV etc), develop and integrate various Applications and focusing on User Experience ( UE=UI+Applications). In China, and may be other countries, the majority of development work for UE for both Meego and Android has been subcontracted to mobile terminal devices (MTD) manufacturers. Android platform is focused on  3rd party application development and integration, and managed using Google Android Market App Store (Got polluted by  quite a lot of virus and junk ads due to the loose management at the earlier stage). While Meego is temporarily be supported by Intel's and responsible by of Linux Foundation.

  5. Meego's innovative solution which singles out security strategy and security software from operation system, and allowed separate configuration, and independent development to guarantee the safety independence and controllability of operation system (Meego)

  6. Meego's innovative solution which allow modifications, change and independent development of: 1): User Experience ( User Interface and various applications including popular applications provided in OS); 2): Some functional modules ( framework) of middleware. Those changed software part could be either open or proprietary. This guarantee that this OS can be independently owned and controlled by anyone, and a trusted foundation that a commercial model could be safely build on.

In Which Direction the Open Source OS in China Will Go

In the past, most open source OS developed by enterprises in China, are based on Linux Kernel, and transplanted with software from other open source OS. Most companies only organize their own development and own user experience on user interface and some applications (Including integrating some localized software with OS platform, and taking order for customer specified application), and use testing technologies and development tools to Debug, Bug fix and Patch to achieve software  stability, optimization and performance gaining  ( IBM even support the quality certification for Redflag Linux) . As a mater of fact, Some OEM's of Mobile OS in Taiwan have been doing the something long time ago, except that it took about 6 months of development circle and testing/validation are conducted in a more strict way with more regulations.

Recently some well-known companies in China also  jump into the mobile OS development business, and started hardware and whole system design for its mobile device, and adding its own User Experience ( UE=UI+Applications) software on transplanted Android OS. Some even developed its own application frame work software. In general,  independently developed Mobile OS's by China domestic companies are mostly self-allied, isolated and mainly based on transplanted version from open source software outside China. Since only a small portion of the software are self developed, it is very hard for a Mobile OS of this kind to surf out as one of major mobile OS version in the world, and barely have space for improvement and promotion.

Development of the domestic mobile operating system for China market, taking a completely closed "from the ground start" development mode is not desirable; The best choice is development based on open source software OS and it must also meet the two criteria:

  1. Meet the requirement for China's national security strategy.

  2. Meet the requirements of commercialization for enterprises.

Thus, a complete adoption of  original version of "fully open" OS is off the table. Also some deviated version of open source OS developed domestically does not conform to the needs of self-control; thus developing an innovative model of open source software OS has become a priority.

Why We Need to Develop an Innovative Model of Meego

With regards to developing an open source Operation System in an innovative model, Meego has more advantage than Android in many aspects. Meego's development is  sheep-herded by Linux Foundation.  Mr. Jim Zemlin, Chair and executive director of Linux foundation, fully understand this. He wrote to Professor  Lu in June when 6th Open Source China Open Source World Summit was held Beijing"  I hope you can participate this summit, and we have opportunity to discuss the innovative model for open source, especially from the point of view of Chinese government (in consideration of national security strategy ) and entrepreneur (in consideration of commercialization and monetization) on open source development", " explorer together and find out the new innovation model for Meego open source software". Professor Lu noted that the bigest shortfall of Meego development is that so far there  are missing heavy weight corporation partners in building Meego eco-system. He encourage Linux Foundation and any corporation (big or small) to come to China to find one, and jointly develop Meego operation system, especially the innovative model for Meego open source software development.
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