Microsoft continues to be threatened by the Linux operating system with the help of a powerful Asian triumvirate: Japan and South Korea are urging China to join an effort that promotes alternatives to Windows, and Japan has already earmarked US$13.25 million for the project and will host a meeting in November for the three governments to boost research in Linux, including flavours that better handle Asian languages.

In China, programmers have already developed a homegrown Linux version called Red Flag Linux which has been touted by Beijing as a secure alternative to Windows, however this latest multi-government attempt to promote Linux is unprecedented in its scope, although some remain sceptical about its prospects. "Linux is about to become an explosive hit in Japan," said Hajime Watanabe, chief executive of Tokyo-based Linux supplier Turbolinux. "The Chinese are determined to say goodbye to Mr Bill Gates. The South Korean government is thinking seriously about it. And the move is starting to take off in Japan."

Microsoft spokesman Mark Martin said "consumers and market forces, not government preferences should determine software selection and development. We are eager to address any government concerns about Microsoft products. Microsoft will continue to work hard to earn government trust and business and build on the strong relationships we hold today."

Microsoft has identified Linux as one of the biggest threats to its success as businesses, governments and others around the world try out or switch to the open-source software.

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