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Hirano Masanobu, OSDL Director of Asia

Masanobu HiranoAsia has become quite a fertile ground for Linux adoption, probably more so than any other geographical region on the planet.

Oracle and Red Hat Linux have been very active in the region, recently setting up a Linux Enterprise Applications Porting (LEAP) center in Singapore. Linux Vendor TurboLinux won a large contract from the government of China for its national railway system. And an indigenous Linux effort, known as Asianux, supported by Oracle, China's Red Flag and Japan's Miracle Linux, has also been picking up steam this year.

The OSDL, the self-proclaimed "center of gravity" for Linux and "home to Linux creator Linus Torvalds" is also a believer in Asia's Linux potential. It recently set up a new office in China, which adds to its already existing Asian presence in Japan.

Overseeing the OSDL's effort to foster Linux adoption in Asia is the job of Masanobu Hirano, its newly installed director of Asia. Hirano is no stranger to the Asian Linux community, having previously served as president of Red Hat Japan and General Manager of Red Hat North Asia. He began his career as an engineer with IBM, one of Linux's biggest allies.

Hirano recently spoke with internetnews.com about the spread of Linux in Asia and the OSDL's commitment to ensuring its continued success in the region.

Q: In what areas do you expect Asia to lead in Linux adoption?

I expect the server space to be the first to adopt Linux, followed by carrier grade, desktop and embedded applications.

Q: What do you consider barriers to this adoption? How will OSDL try to overcome them?

In Asia, we continue to improve the full system of support businesses. One of the largest opportunities for Linux in Asia is making sure that the business community's needs are being heard by the development community. In Asia, as in other regions, the development community wants to make Linux better. They just need a forum in which they can listen to what the market needs. As in other countries such as the U.S., large-scale users of Linux need to be able to voice what they need in terms of business requirements. With the growth of OSDL in Asia, we offer the place where developers, end-users and ISVs can come together to make Linux better.

Q: Do you think that Linux will have an easier time in Asia achieving market dominance than in the United States or Europe?

In Asia, Linux generally attracts the same level of attention as in the U.S. and Europe. However, this high level of interest and attention is usually not from businesses or related to business. Therefore, it seems to be too optimistic to say "easier in Asia."

Q: I've seen some IDC research on the expected growth of Linux in Asia. Do you happen to have any OSDL-sponsored research or analysis on what the market potential is for Linux in Asia?

OSDL has not sponsored research on the growth of Linux in Asia, but we have spoken at length to many people in Japan and China. We agree with IDC that there is tremendous interest and potential for growth, especially in areas, such as carrier grade, desktop and embedded applications.

Q: At whose expense is Linux to grow in Asia -- Unix or Windows? Or is it a case of creating a new install base where there was none before?

We expect the rate of Unix-to-Linux migrations will increase. Even in the desktop field, migration from Windows will go on gradually. Migrations from non-Windows desktop platforms will not have a big influence on the market because the install bases are small.

Q: Do you think Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates' recent trip to Asia is causing Asian companies to rethink Linux adoption? Is a renewed Asian push by Microsoft a real threat to Linux?

No, we don't see any slowdown in the interest of Linux in Japan or China. There is a time and place for Windows. More and more organizations in Asia are realizing that there is also a time and place for Linux.

Q: What is the mandate of the OSDL in Asia? Does it differ from the OSDL's U.S. aspirations or adjust to local need?

OSDL's mandate and basic strategy is same in Asia, although we will make some local adjustments. For example, multi-byte capability is important in many areas, such as keyboard input, font, printing, document formatting and so on. A local effort is required to accomplish this. Additionally, as we expand OSDL's activities in new geographies, we will evaluate a wider range of market needs.

Q: How much of a role do governments have to play in Linux adoption in Asia?

Governments in Japan, China and Korea are giving a lot of attention to Linux, because they think that Linux will have a great influence on IT cost and IT infrastructure in governmental sectors and local government units. From that standpoint, it would be the first time in the history of computer software for governments to proactively investigate the use of technology like Linux before the technology becomes widely used.

Q: How much of an impact to you think Asianux will have in Asia? How will the homegrown distribution fare against others like Red Hat and Novell/SUSE?

The success of the various organizations will depend on the scale of their development, organization and structural plans. Asianux, like RedHat, SUSE and others, is very committed to taking advantage of the great opportunities that exist here.

Q: What efforts does the OSDL have planned for the rest of the year in Asia that will help Linux grow?

OSDL is very interested in supporting the advancement of Linux on the desktop in Asian markets where this is a good alternative such as China. We expect to host a Desktop Linux working group session in China sometime within the next six months. OSDL's carrier grade and data center efforts are going very well in Asia. We'd like to more focus on embedded in Japan and the desktop in China.