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Mad Hatter to Sip China Tea out of China Cup

Mad Hatter to Sip China Tea out of China Cup

That hole Alice nipped down after the White Rabbit before tying up with the Mad Hatter has come out in China - just like our parents used to tell us it would if we kept on digging in the garden when we were kids.

Just imagine Sun Microsystems as Alice.

In an announcement overshadowed Monday by Sun’s new Opteron alliance with AMD that Sun claims - well, some at Sun anyway - could be a lot more far-reaching than the AMD deal, Sun said that the Chinese were going to make Sun’s newfangled Linux-based Java Desktop System, otherwise known as Project Mad Hatter, the foundation of the Chinese desktop standard.

Well, now, every time people start talking like this these days we get this mental picture of a bunch of ancient Chinese elders with their wispy beards and black silk robes gossiping and nodding off over their bowls of tea. Lotta talk, no action. Linux and the open source people are forever claiming to be penetrating the great China market, but nothing ever seems to happen.

Ditto the Chinese government’s claims about dumping Microsoft and going Linux and open source.

Well, Sun swears this Chinese Mad Hatter is no opium dream and that it’s anticipating making a "double digit" figure off of it in the immediate future, which - not to bust their balloon or anything - isn’t even a drop in the bucket in a land of 1.3 billion people. Sun claims it’s got more than a hunting license, but acknowledges that schemes like this are often limited to being hortatory.

But this is as much a religious jihad as it is a commercial venture and, anyway, Sun is convinced the Chinese deal is going to, as it says, "tip the market" in its favor.

It figures it’ll at least get the Chinese government’s account and since the Chinese are in bed with Koreans and Japanese in formulating an open source stratagem, Sun figures it’ll make a clean sweep of Asia and then like a modern Mogul hoard ride like a steamroller over Europe and the rest of the world welcomed by an anti-Microsoft politicians.

Sun’s deal with the Chinese is royalty-based - an amusing little detail given that open source is identified with royalty-free - and it’s got Sun and its CEO Scott McNealy suggesting that Mad Hatter is going to wind up on 200 million Chinese desktops, 500 million, according to some reports, both highly creative numbers that are hysterically more desktops than China owns, even counting all the pirated ones.

According to Chinese statistics, there are less than 100 million desktops in the country and given a growth rate of, oh, say, 15%, it would take Sun something like 15 years to hit the 200 million number enshrined in its press release.

Anyway, in a soberer moment, Sun says that Mad Hatter should get on 500,000 to a million systems next year, probably closer to 500,000 when all is said and done though it’s quick to add that the Chinese have a "significant" ramp in years two and three.

How "significant" exactly that could be in the light of typical growth rates remains to be seen especially since Sun says it expects to do most of its business through bundles, though Mad Hatter will be offered as a standalone product too.

Sounds like Microsoft might have some wiggle room in there somewhere and not get staked out over an anthill just yet. However, as Sun notes, Microsoft is already showing signs of retreat. In Thailand, it’s reportedly selling Windows and Office together for a mere 40 bucks.

There’s a story told about this Chinese city that thought it was getting its Microsoft software for free. The deal turned out to be a "loan" for a few years and the town was mighty surprised to eventually get a bill. It claimed it couldn’t afford it. Sun says Microsoft’s upgrade policies smack of the old get-‘em-hooked tactics of the Opium Wars.

Anyway, it seems that there’s this consortium of Chinese hardware and software vendors and academicians called the China Standard Software Company Ltd (CSSC) that’s part of a so-called national Chinese high-tech R&D initiative known as Project 863 meant to improve the country’s international competitiveness. Sun’s deal is with CSSC.

Project 863 gets its name from the date it was organized in March of 1986 and one of its wide-ranging mandates - which included getting that shiny new Chinese cosmonaut off the ground in the last few weeks - is to develop the key technologies for the construction of a national information infrastructure, which brings us back to Mad Hatter.

Sun says that these CSSC people, which like their government-supported members like Chinasoft Network Technology Company and the China Electronics Technology Corporation apparently get their sustenance and encouragement from China’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) and its Ministry of Information and Industry (MII) – were reportedly chartered to deliver a standard Linux-based (non-Microsoft) desktop.

CSSC lighted on Mad Hatter, because of its integration and interoperability, as a way to jumpstart the effort, especially the integration part. The desktop will wear a CSSC brand.

Sun’s director of marketing in its Desktop Products Group Peder Ulander, a legacy from Sun’s reckless Cobalt Networks adventure, said Mad Hatter will be the foundation around which the Chinese, anxious to make sure its GDP doesn’t became our GNP, build an ecosystem.

The Java Desktop System is an elixir consisting of StarOffice 7, J2SE, Mozilla, Ximian and, it appears from what Ulander said, pieces of Linux code borrowed from both SUSE and Red Hat like SUSE’s install and Red Hat RPMs. Sun has previously said it used SUSE LINUX, but Ulander stresses its Java side rather than its Linux dimension. Developers can write to both Java and Linux, he said. It’s apparently seen largely as a development environment.

The Java Desktop System, which is supposed to launch in the West December 1, will be delivered to Chinese end users starting in January. Ulander says the ISVs have copies already.

So far there’s only a traditional Chinese version of Mad Hatter. Sun and the CSSC have to see how far that gets them or what other dialects it might have to be translated into or might have to support. Sun notes that China’s coastal provinces are the most computerized and as one progresses inland things aren’t so modern.

Sales programs also have to be developed.

Sun quotes CSSC general manager Han Naiping as saying cryptically, "We expect to continue evolving our collaboration to cover a wider range of partner projects in the future."

The Chinese were supposed to follow up on Sun revelation this past week, but now that announcement, which could suggest how much the deal could be worth to Sun, was pushed off.

The deal is subject to US export controls.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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