Gou Zhongwen, a vice minister at the powerful Ministry of Information Industry, recently announced that the Chinese government plans to throw its financial weight behind Linux-based computer systems that could rival Microsoft Corp.'s Windows.

China would build a domestic software industry around Linux — a cheaper software standard that can copied and modified freely.

"Linux is an opportunity for us to make a breakthrough in developing software," he was quoted as saying on the ministry Web site. "But the market cannot be developed on a large scale without government support." Gou did not give details on the amount of planned government investment in Linux.

China's information technology market is growing at 20 percent a year, with software sales expected to reach $30.5 billion in 2005, according to research house International Data Corp. The domestic industry is dominated by Microsoft, Oracle Corp , IBM Corp, Sybase Inc, UFSoft and Kingsoft Co. Japan, China and South Korea agreed in September to collaborate on building a new computer operating system as an alternative to Windows. Japanese media reported they would likely build an open-source system such as Linux. Chinese officials have said they preferred to use software with open source codes to ensure that software guarding sensitive state information and networks cannot be tampered with easily.

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