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Special Chinese Edition Of Windows 10 Created For 'Security' Purposes

According to a report in Chinese magazine Caixin, Microsoft completed a special edition of Windows 10 for the Chinese government, called Windows 10 Zhuangongban, which includes additional "management and security controls." The company struck a deal last December to create a joint venture with China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC) to sell this special edition in the country.

The Chinese government has stricter rules for companies that want to do business in China, and in the past few months it has been pushing American companies to create joint ventures with local companies. This would give the local companies, as well as the Chinese government more control over American technology products.

For instance, it's no secret that China would want an easy way to unlock encrypted devices and communications, which it has tried to push through new counter-terrorism laws last year. However, after major pushback from the American companies and the U.S. government, China may have agreed to a compromise, which would allow American companies to save face by not forcing them to implement their own backdoors into their products. The Chinese government would instead ask them to allow Chinese companies to modify the U.S. companies' products in accordance with the local laws.

It wouldn't be the first time something like this has happened, either. Years ago, the old Skype company agreed to create a joint-venture with a local Chinese company, called TOM-Skype. This happened at a time when Skype was still using the hard-to-intercept peer-to-peer version of the app, so special software would need to be used to intercept or censor those messages.

However, once Microsoft killed the P2P architecture of Skype and all the messages would go through its own servers, such method of interception was no longer required. The Chinese government could request the messages in the same way the U.S. government could. This will remain true until Microsoft adopts end-to-end encryption for Skype, similar to what Signal or Whatsapp are using.

It's not clear whether the special Chinese version of Windows 10 was created for the purpose of allowing government surveillance and censorship because Microsoft doesn't seem to want to divulge too many details about the partnership. However, once Microsoft allows local Chinese companies to write native code for that special version of Windows 10, then what happens to that code may even be out of Microsoft's hands.

The partnership also comes a few years after the Snowden revelations, which prompted the Chinese government to ban Windows 8 from government offices for security reasons. Other American companies, including IBM, Qualcomm, Intel, Dell, Cisco, HP, Cloudflare, and Juniper Networks have seen similar treatment by the Chinese government, as well as some anti-trust investigations. According to Dell's president of enterprise solutions, these sort of joint-ventures may be the only way forward for American companies that want to do business in China.

Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware. You can follow him at @lucian_armasu. 

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Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.
  • hellwig
    I don't get joint ventures. Is there really enough money for these western companies in China for them to do business? Especially if the up-front cost of that business is basically kick-starting your own competition? You may get paid for one iteration of your product, but all the follow up iterations are probably going to be produced by the JV companies you funded.

    I mean, Microsoft is pretty much giving away Windows 10 anyway, and China is notorious for pirating Windows. Does Microsoft think enough Chinese citizens will buy Office 365 subscriptions to make up this difference?
    Reply
  • DookieDraws
    That's one hell of a name! :)
    Reply
  • Solandri
    When are Western companies going to realize what's going on? I'm Asian. Asia has very little respect for intellectual property law. They predominantly believe that if you want to protect IP, you need to secure it yourself. And there's an unwritten rule that everyone is going to try to steal your IP, so you damn well better secure it instead of relying on some IP law. It's accepted enough that you can be fired if your employer orders you to spy on a competitor and you refuse.

    China's MO is to require you to share technology and/or build your factories in China in order to "get access" to the market. The promise is that after you do this, you will be able to sell your products in China. The reality is that they will steal your IP and manufacturing technologies, build their own competing factory which underbids you, and effectively shut you out of their market again, only now they have all your technology without having to have invested decades of R&D to develop it on their own.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-speed_rail_in_China#Technology_transfer

    The Chinese are probably astounded that Western companies are falling for this, and keep falling for it. Why waste time hunting for deer when the sheep willingly line up to be slaughtered?
    Reply
  • DeadlyDays
    I don't get joint ventures. Is there really enough money for these western companies in China for them to do business? Especially if the up-front cost of that business is basically kick-starting your own competition? You may get paid for one iteration of your product, but all the follow up iterations are probably going to be produced by the JV companies you funded.

    I mean, Microsoft is pretty much giving away Windows 10 anyway, and China is notorious for pirating Windows. Does Microsoft think enough Chinese citizens will buy Office 365 subscriptions to make up this difference?

    There is a potential markets in the billions, the potential market outside china is a fraction of that
    Reply
  • Mizox
    Western companies often don't CARE about profits more than a year or two out. They largely behave as simple hill-climbing algorithms which optimize for the extremely short term, and consider things like ip theft, national policy, local competitors, precedent, and common sense to simply be "externalities" which can be safely ignored and left out of their calculations.
    Reply
  • hitman400
    They should make a Special Addition of Windows 7 for "Not Forcing Updates"
    Reply
  • hitman400
    They should make a Special Addition of Windows 7 for "Not Forcing Updates"
    Reply
  • memadmax
    Ewww!
    Stay away from this version like the plague!
    Reply
  • 8R_Scotch
    Anything to get your target number of W10 installs, huh Microsoft? If it means allowing the Chinese government to install back-doors, spy on their citizens so be it... never mind if you're helping the Chinese gov supress dissention and persecute political opposition, who the hell cares... china is full of users and business to install your new OS that allows YOU to spy on and hold the user's PC hostage on future updates and policy changes.
    Reply
  • zodiacfml
    lol. it will backfire. the savvy chinese people will, expectedly, avoid products their government endorses.
    Reply