From FreedomHEC Taipei to / Linux and the Taiwanese Hardware Industry

I'm on my way from Taipei to Bangalore, from FreedomHEC Taipei to Two very different events in two very different countries with a quite different IT industry.

I was really happy about FreedomHEC. It is really about time that the Linux world and the Taiwan-based chipset vendors and system integrators start much more interaction. It is a simple economic fact that A lot of hardware development, both in the PC mainboard, Laptop as well as the embedded device space happens in Taiwan. It is also very true, that for whatever reason the gradual Linux revolution in the server and desktop market in the EU, the US and other markets such as Southern America has not really reached Taiwan. At least from all the various contacts that I've made in Taiwan, there are almost no Linux users, and particularly not in a corporate environment.

My experience in Germany shows that many small and medium sized companies, as well as a noteworthy part of public administration is using Linux, at least on the server side, and to an increasing amount on the desktop side. Many end users have dual-booting machines. Plus, the universities and particularly the computer science departments have a long UNIX-related tradition - and most SunOS and Solaris workstations have since been replaced by Linux based systems, or at least systems with dual-boot configurations.

If my completely non-representative assessment of the Situation in Taiwan is true, then we just don't see this level of adoption there. And this has a quite big impact:

  • Managers and Engineers underestimate the amount of Linux adoptions in their target markets, since they don't see that much adoption in their domestic market
  • Even if there is a [customer] demand for Linux, the Taiwanese hardware industry has a hard time to properly respond to this demand due to the lack of know-how about Linux and FOSS - both technology-wise, but also regarding the development model
  • There are very few system administrators or software developers with a profound Linux user experience. How are you supposed to administrate or develop for a system that you haven't at least used for a couple of years?

So as a result of this, I argue that Linux hardware support world wide suffers from the lack of recognition of Linux in Taiwan.

This needs to change. Recent developments like the Asus eeePC or Linux-based Netbooks in general are not a solution either. They don't mean that Asus suddenly cares about how well e.g. the Linux ACPI implementation interacts with the ACPI BIOS of their non-eeePC Laptops.

I think any system integrator who understands those facts will likely gain a lot of trust and customer satisfaction. We yet have to see _any_ laptop or mainboard manufacturer who goes public and says "we will test our systems with Linux like we test them with Windows".

Non-Taiwanese system integrators like Dell or HP have a competitive advantage here. They do understand much better what Linux is, and how to work with it - even though mostly still on the Server side. You will find Linux-based BIOS update tools. You will see ACPI BIOSes that actually work properly and don't just contain random bytes in those parts that Windows doesn't currently use.

Why not Acer? Why not Asus? Why not MSI? Why not Foxconn? How much of a R&D investment is it really to do even the most minimal testing like booting some Linux Live Distribution from CD and checking if the major features are working? I would assume in the total Laptop R&D cost, it's less than 1%. So if only 1% of the customers will install Linux, it should already be justified.

Especially right now, nobody has really made the first step. Anyone who starts with the right strategy can be the first one on the market. The opportunity is there. Don't wait until the competition uses it.