Chinese domestic OS: What does it mean?

As China pushes ahead with plans to develop a domestic operating system, what effect will this have on its relationship with the US and the wider world?

In China, American technology companies dominate the operating system market. Figures put Android at the top, with a 52.18% market share. Meanwhile, Windows is second with 31.97% and iOS is third with 10.9%.

However, in the future, the popularity of American software could start to diminish. In December, Chinese software firms China Standard Software (CS2C) and Tianjin Kylin Information (TKC) announced that they would team up and combine resources to develop a domestic operating system capable of taking on the likes of Google, Microsoft and Apple.

According to a report by ZDNet, they're planning to launch and invest in a new company that will develop, market and sell China's domestic OS. While the firms have not revealed much about the product at this stage, it'll be based on CS2C's NeyKylinOS and TKC's Kylin.

Both companies have connections to the Chinese Government, which wants to ban all state PCs running on Windows by 2022. The Chinese Communist Party Central Office issued the order last month following America's decision to blacklist China-based technology companies. With this in mind, what do these plans mean for the OS incumbents and how do they tie in with current US-China tensions?

A rocky relationship

There's no denying that China and the US have had a difficult relationship in recent times. Multiple trade wars have erupted between both nations, with America particularly taking aim at Chinese technology firms like Huawei over security concerns. All this aside, BOLT.Global CEO Jamal Hassim says they have an interlocked relationship and are mutually co-dependent on various core sectoral strengths to fuel their economies.

He tells IDG Connect: "Cheap Chinese manufacturing produced electronic products for the US consumers, while the US supplied high grade components such as silicon chips and core software systems for the electronic products. Over the years, this smooth trade-off has meant China had spent much of its focus on empowering its manufacturing hubs while side-lining R&D."

Things are quickly changing, though. Hassim explains that China's recent trade war with the US has "exposed the underlying risks within the global trade network". In particular, he believes that China is vulnerable when it comes to critical network infrastructure.

Hassim says: "While over the years China had perfected a few core sectors including nuclear energy power plants and electric vehicles, it significantly lags behind in industries such as silicon chips, automobiles, aircrafts and operating systems. Significantly, China has had the benefit of ‘leapfrogging'' - the process in which it directly jumped to the top of the innovation ladder in a few sectors.

Competing with US tech

Now, with plans for a domestic operating system in full swing, the country clearly wants to move away from American-made software and develop its own offering. Hassim continues: "The country is now seeking to change this dependency on the United States as part of its grander vision for becoming a secure world power and to prevent any future conflicts affecting it.

"Hence the merger between China Standard Software (CS2C) and Tianjin Kylin Information (TKC) to develop a domestic operating system is in line with this vision for self-dependency - the same reason why China is investing heavily in domestic defence and aircraft productions."

While Microsoft's Windows is currently the dominating operating system in America, Hassim points out that NeoKylin and Kylin are "fairly successful" in their own right. So a merger between their Chinese creators could easily result in a product that can outflank American competitors.

"The NeoKylin is similar to Windows XP and has been widely received, including in over 40% of the Dell computers sold in China," explains Hassim. "The new merger will therefore combine the strengths of both software companies and pool together a stronger R&D for creating a challenger product. We can expect a worthy local competition for Microsoft in China, which can change market positions in the next 3-5 years."

Globally, the technology industry is constantly evolving, and it's understandable that China wants to make a name of its own. Andrew Rogoyski, innovation director at Roke Manor Research, says: "There are some really, really big changes in the global landscape of technology and innovation. New computing operating systems for mobile, IoT and conventional computing are just the tip of the iceberg.

"China has been developing operating systems and other software for many years now. When they choose to really get behind their own OSs, they have a huge domestic market which will enable them to establish their commercial user bases before exporting worldwide."

He says there must be an opportunity for China to provide a new, low-cost platform and app ecosystem to a global market in a way that Apple and Google cannot afford to compete with.  "I think people hugely underestimate China's emerging capabilities to develop world-leading technologies," explains Rogoyski.

"We're used to seeing them as the world's manufacturer of technology, under license from the West. I think the pendulum is swinging and we're going to start seeing areas where Chinese technology is the most innovative and advanced in the world."

Rogoyski explains that the country is renowned for technological research in its own research, so it obviously has the resources to take America on. "China has the largest number of researchers in the world, their universities are climbing the international rankings, they now file about three times as many patents as the US - their research and innovation capability is only going to go one way," he adds.

In the age of digital, technology supremacy is something that will easily define the superpowers of the future. As both China and America continue to invest heavily in technological research, the race for this status will continue to tighten. If Chinese plans for a domestic operating system go ahead successfully, its status as a technology leader could change significantly.