Korea trapped in Windows dilemma

April 11, 2014

Gov’t’s plan to cut reliance on Windows face criticism 

By Kim Yoo-chul

Korea’s plan to diversify its software sources to cut its reliance on the Microsoft (MS) Windows operating system faces criticism from industry experts and officials at various companies.

The latest decision by MS to end its Windows XP support starting this week has prompted government officials to look for other software options.

While Korea is scratching its head, looking for alternative software, experts pointed out that the country isn’t in a position to completely eliminate MS software in the foreseeable future.

They agreed that Korea needs to accelerate efforts to diversify its software sources, but the government’s recently developed plans are not sufficient and will likely fail.

“The plan is too ambitious. MS has so far dominated in Korea for decades, with the MS Windows software installed in PCs everywhere from government offices and private companies to schools and homes. You can’t suddenly drop a long-time ally,” said an official at Samsung Electronics in Seoul.

He also stressed that using open-based software in local government offices may cause security problems as open platforms are generally vulnerable to hacking.

All local authorities use MS-developed text, financing and scheduling systems. Experts doubt that those advanced programs can smoothly run with open-based software.

“Programs used in local government offices and private companies are customized to operate with MS software. We have no objections to Korea finding alternatives. However, doing so is very time-consuming and has no guarantees,” said the Samsung official.

The pessimism has been rampant since the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning (MSIP) launched a special task force with the Ministry of Security and Public Administration, Ministry of Strategy and Finance, professors and software experts to find alternatives to the MS Windows platform.

“The task force is composed of some 20 experts from the government and private sectors. The results from the discussions will be included in the ministry’s research and development plan next year,” said an official at the MSIP who declined to be named, adding that Seoul will spend more to find alternatives to MS software.

The ministry said that it has felt keenly the necessity of reducing the dependence on one software product after MS decided to pull it support for XP on April 8. This will have huge security implications, the officials said, so it is imperative to find what options are out there.

The ministry considers replacing MS Windows-installed PCs in government offices and schools with those installed with open-source software after it sets a roadmap for addressing the issue this year. Ubuntu, a Linux operating system, is considered as one possible option to replace the Windows system. Ubuntu is based on free software.

According to industry sources, there are around 460,000 Window-based PCs installed at the government, state-run organizations and schools.

“We can’t actively respond to changing market situations if we stick to the software provided by MS. Korea relies too much on the Windows software,” said another MSIP official.

The U.S.-based licensing giant has dominated the Korean market for decades, with the MS Windows software installed in PCs everywhere from government offices and private companies to schools and homes.

The ministry also plans to replace MS Windows-installed PCs in local government offices and schools with open-based software from next year after it establishes a roadmap for addressing the issue.

“Seoul may approach Google, MS’s key rival, to develop software customized for paper and office jobs,” said another MSIP official.

Google Korea declined to comment on whether or not it was approached by the government regarding the development of software for local authorities.

MS Korea declined to comment about the issue, saying it’s against company policy to comment on licensing-related matters.

Experts said Korea should take a close look at the recent agreement between MS and the Ministry of National Defense, where using MS software with lower licensing fees was chosen as a reasonable option.

Last year, the technology giant, headquartered in Redmond, Wash., was involved in a dispute with the defense ministry over the annual fee for its MS software.

MS was said to have asked for $188 million from the defense ministry, claiming that some of the ministry’s PCs didn’t include Client Access Licenses.

Months later, however, MS signed a new agreement with the defense ministry to provide cheaper software and increased support for PCs in local government offices.

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