What looks like XP but perhaps behaves better? A version of Ubuntu that sports the XP user interface, currently available in Chinese for download from the Web. Whether Microsoft will attempt to assert its intellectual property rights is unknown -- and the legal status of the OS is far from clear.
Chinese-language consumers unwilling or unable to pay the cost of a legitimate copy of Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT) Windows XP now have a new alternative: a clone of the operating system that's based on Ubuntu.
Dubbed "Ylmf OS," the software is available from Rain Forest Wind Guangdong Computer Technology as a free download on a dedicated Web site.
The system is based on Ubuntu 9.10 and integrates Wine, according to the page. Also included are OpenOffice 3.1, CompizConfig Effects Settings Manager, Firefox and Pidgin for instant messaging.
Canonical, the company that serves as Ubuntu's commercial sponsor, could not be reached for comment by this story's deadline.
'I Don't Recommend It'
Uncovered last Saturday by Download Squad, the Ylmf hack is actually not the first instance of Ubuntu being made to look like Windows.
In what may or may not be a coincidence, an Ubuntu fan who goes by the name of Phrank Waldorf received considerable attention on the Linux blogs just a few weeks ago by posting a similar hack, also using Ubuntu 9.10 to emulate Windows XP.
"I don't use this. I don't recommend it, either!" Waldorf wrote. "I actually made the script as a programming exercise."
The response, however, was likely more than Waldorf had expected. Countless enthusiastic comments were left by readers on Waldorf's page, including at least one asking permission to translate it for a Chinese blog.
'Far More Interesting Work to be Done'
It's not entirely clear why Linux fans -- many of whom are overtly hostile towards Microsoft -- would want to emulate Windows with open source technology.
Indeed, in the open source community, "the general sense is there is far more interesting work to be done differentiating and competing with Windows rather than emulating it," Jay Lyman, an analyst with the 451 Group, told LinuxInsider.
It's also not likely such technology holds much promise going forward, Lyman added, "particularly as we see more support for Windows in Linux and other open source software and more support for Linux and other open source in Windows."
'A Brazen Effort'
In China, however, it seems at least possible that a Windows clone based on open source software could present a potentially more legitimate alternative to widely available pirated versions. User modification is fully expected in the world of open source software, after all.
On the other hand, can it be acceptable to use open source technology to closely mimic the graphical user interface of a proprietary counterpart? The legality is far from clear.
"Rarely does a brazen effort to pilfer the intellectual property of others appear so blatant as with the Ylmf OS product being circulated in China," Raymond Van Dyke, a partner with Merchant & Gould, told LinuxInsider.
'Clear Aim to Interfere'
"The Chinese government should proactively do what they can to squelch this obvious act of hacking and copying a well-known product covered by various patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets, both in the U.S. and in China," Van Dyke asserted.
While "legitimate reverse engineering of functionalities is acceptable in the U.S., one cannot wholesale copy a protected product, although some functionalities may be worked around," he explained.
More troubling, however, is "copying the exact design or style of the product, which pirates have absolutely no excuse to copy -- apart from their clear aim to interfere with the sales of the legitimate owner or otherwise trade on the owner's good name," Van Dyke added.
Better Than the Real Thing?
"If this is an effort to pass off the XP desktop theme as the XP operating system, I don't think it is going to work," Joe Casad, editor in chief of Ubuntu User magazine, told LinuxInsider.
"The irony is that this faux Windows system will be safer, more stable and less susceptible to malware than the system it is pretending to be," Casad noted.
Still, "it never really helps to manipulate the customer," he added. "We say that every day to Microsoft, and we would certainly say the same thing to people who are trying to make money by imitating Microsoft."
If the Rain Forest Wind Guangdong company "finds that it gives them a competitive edge to distribute Ubuntu to their customers, they should just admit it," Casad concluded. "It will be better for both their users and their tech support to have menus that match the underlying system."