Chinese software industry sees opportunity in Microsoft's anti-piracy move

Wednesday, 29 October 2008, 07:00 Hrs
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Beijing: When Microsoft noticed "misunderstandings" among the Chinese public over its "black screen" move to crack down on piracy, the country's domestic software industry saw opportunity and couldn't wait to embrace it.

A Kingsoft public relations manager said there were currently up to 120,000 daily Internet downloads of "WPS Office," the "Microsoft Office"-like software developed by Kingsoft, compared with 50,000 to 60,000 downloads before the controversial Microsoft move.

"Reject black screen, say 'no' to the threat," read an online advert inserted into WPS Office. It was evident Kingsoft seemed to expect a lot from this "opportunity."

Kingsoft, Evermore Software, Redflag and other Chinese companies that develop office applications, which aren't as complicated as operating systems, spoke to the media shortly after Microsoft resorted to the black-screen move.

The companies said that their software was as good as that of the software giant, small in size and free for individuals.

'Office 2009' developed by Evermore Software, was warmly received and had been installed into three million computers since it was launched on Oct 13, claimed Cao Can, the company's vice board chairman. The software was free to individuals.

Microsoft launched the 'Windows Genuine Advantage' (WGA) and 'Office Genuine Advantage' (OGA) tools just after zero hour on Oct 21 to test the legitimacy of the software in China's computers. Those computer users whose software failed the tests would see a black desktop or a permanent sign on pirated Office software.

Microsoft issued a public letter on Thursday saying it noticed "misunderstandings" over the latest move, while reiterating it wouldn't collect personal information via the tools to assuage fears of possible privacy infringements.

Although the company explained again that the WGA only turned the desktop black and would not affect computer use, controversy over it was so heated that it developed into the "black screen incident" in Chinese media.

The headline-hitting incident also triggered online surveys on almost every major portal. According to China Features, the feeling of domestic computer users toward the move proved mixed. There were concerns, worries, anger, as well as applause and support.

Many netizens stayed up early on Tuesday just to see what would happen to their computers with the Microsoft anti-piracy move. They sent pictures of the "black screen" to blogs, BBS and portals, triggering discussion among the masses.

"People have to stand up from their seats and relax for a while when their computer desktop turned black once an hour, which shows how human-touch the pirated software is. So I replaced my genuine version with a pirated one," one netizen surnamed Ni wrote, jokingly.

The "reject black screen, say 'no' to threat" ad of Kingsoft's WPS was replaced Friday last week. The company's public relations department gave no reason for its withdrawal.

The Microsoft move came months after the Seattle-based multinational reported Hong Lei, who ran a 'Tomato Garden' website providing free downloads of unlocked Windows systems, to police, leading to the arrest of the young man in August.

Observers took the arrest as a sign of Microsoft's piracy crackdown in China. Some bloggers said all this took place as if it had been scheduled.

In 1998, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates told the media: "Although about three million computers get sold every year in China, people don't pay for the software. Someday they will, though. As long as they're going to steal it, we want them to steal ours. They'll get sort of addicted, and then we'll somehow figure out how to collect sometime in the next decade."

A decade later, Ni Guangnan, a researcher at the Institute of Computing Technology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and also an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said: "The black screen teaches us a better lesson than all the preaching."

"Now people understand why China needs its own software, especially basic programs ... Aren't worse things likely to happen in the future?" he asked.

Kingsoft's WPS Office was popular in China but its market share went down rapidly after Microsoft offered its Word97 programme for a price as low as 97 yuan (14.2 US dollars), which sparked allegations of predatory pricing.

There was also criticism that the Windows system, which has no real challenger worldwide, had been too expensive for most users in China.

Along with the black screen move, Microsoft launched an aggressive price campaign in the country, selling its latest system, Windows Vista, for only 499 yuan and Office at 199 yuan.

Beijing Federal Software Co. Ltd, a flagship software retailer in the country, said that software sales increased 60 percent in recent days after Microsoft's anti-piracy move.

Kingsoft has worked hard to improve its software to regain the market in recent years. In 2006, it won a 56.2 percent share in the government procurement market.

Information security worries Chinese more than monopoly suspicion over Microsoft in the wake of the black screen move, which puts domestic software into a more favourable position.

Last year, the proportion of pirated computer software in China, calculated in terms of the software's market value, fell to 41 percent, an 11-percentage-point drop as against the 2006 figure, according to a research report commissioned by the State Intellectual Property Office to the website.

The report attributed the decline to the use of genuine software in government institutions and enterprises, as well as lower software prices. It noted that many types of new software had been accepted by the users after free versions became available for individuals, a result of the development of the Internet.
Source: IANS
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