Inter-disciplinary study on open source software development in developing countries: a case study of Chinese Linux
This research provides a detailed account of Open Source Software (OSS) development in the context of developing countries (DCs) by exploring the specific case of Chinese indigenous Linux design and development. It builds an interdisciplinary, socio-technical, analytical framework from the perspective of science and technology studies (STS), in particular the social shaping of technology (SST), infrastructural studies and international technology transfer. It also covers the fields of economic analysis, policy studies and development studies. The research investigates the adaptation process of a unique OSS with infrastructural features – Linux in the context of China by conducting case studies on both embedded Linux and platform Linux products developed by two Chinese Linux providers. Drawing upon the concepts developed in the SST perspective and infrastructural studies, this research addresses both the dynamism and continuity of OSS. In order to avoid the shortcomings of existing social scientific study on OSS, we applied social and biography of artefacts (BoA) approaches to examine the evolution of Chinese Linux by mapping out the key actors, investigating the linkages between them, and probing deeply into the intricate interplays among these actors over time. A detailed longitudinal and contextual analysis has been undertaken through a qualitative historical case study of the evolution of both Chinese embedded Linux and platform Linux from 1998-2008. The empirical data reveals that the local adaptation and further innovation of Chinese Linux is a ‘generification’ process, i.e. a process of design and developing generic Linux solutions for diverse local users. Theoretically, the understanding of the socio-technical interfaces of the software (seeking, identifying, categorising local users/intermediaries, as well as collaborating with key players associated with the particular software) are central elements for software technology transfer and local technological capabilities building. The findings also throw the light on the crucial importance of government role in providing incentives and institutional measures for Linux adaptation in China. In particular, it highlights the challenges concerning the socio-technical specificities of infrastructural software, like Linux OS (operating system) and the particular relevance to DCs as technology adapters. Finally, this study throws light on the policy and practice for China’s future Linux development, and the implications for other DCs.