Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and US and European sanctions, Western companies began to steadily withdraw from Russian markets. Microsoft was no exception, and in June the company blocked Russian users from downloading the latest versions of Windows, impacting about 95% of computers and laptops that currently run Windows.
That might not seem like a particularly drastic move to the average Windows user in Russia – who, at least in the short term, won’t be hugely affected by a loss of remote support from Microsoft or official updates for Windows 10 and 11.
Yet this decision could have far greater implications for businesses and government agencies. Basically, these groups are responsible for managing a wide range of everyday commercial and public systems: from elevators and cash registers to medical devices and industrial machinery.
To build resilience against this growing problem, the Russian government has announced its intention to switch from Windows to Linux, a free and open-source operating system.
The announcement: On September 20, the Russian daily Kommersant reported that the Department of Digital Development was preparing new changes to software product policies.
Although these changes are not imposed directly, the ministry says that to qualify for tax benefits, as well as government contracts, companies offering software products will need to switch to Linux-based operating systems. To make this change, companies would have to rebuild many of their products virtually from scratch.
Because Linux is free and customizable, it’s more flexible and can work much better on older computers.
At this point, it’s far from clear how they’ll handle such monumental logistics – but already, high-profile figures at several Russian software companies have weighed in. KommersantAleksey Smirnov of Basalt SPO, a software security company, suggested the requirement be introduced in stages for different classes of software.
Under Smirnov’s proposal, software products that are easier to change could be forced to switch almost immediately, while more complex systems, such as data protection and desktop management databases, could be introduced to Linux later. about 2 years.
Benefits: The potential benefits of this plan have been pointed out by some in the Russian software industry. Above all, Linux is free and customizable. This not only makes it more flexible, but it also means that Linux can run much better on older computers, without the need for expensive hardware upgrades.
Mikhail Lebedev of desktop software developer Almi Partner argued that the change would not require particularly heavy investment or development time. His prediction is that about 10% of software products would require a complete rebuild.
For Natalya Selina of the Linux-based Astra operating system, the change may be a fundamentally important step towards what she calls a “full-fledged national IT ecosystem” in Russia.
Yet despite these optimistic predictions, the changes proposed by the Department of Digital Development will inevitably face many challenges, making their success far from certain.
Roadblocks: Perhaps the most pressing problem with the plan is that the number of Russian software developers specializing in Linux-based operating systems is only a fraction of those who have only ever worked with Windows. This is a particularly daunting prospect for developers whose products will have to be built entirely from scratch.
Some of the systems that will require complete rebuilds are fundamental to the Russian economy.
Dmitry Komissarov of New Cloud Technologies, which is developing an alternative to Microsoft Office, admitted to having Kommersant that the feat of rebuilding his company’s products on Linux-based operating systems would be comparable in time and investment to the efforts of the developers who built Microsoft’s original Office suite.
Rustam Rustamov of Red Soft Operating System added that some of the systems that will require a full rebuild are fundamental to the Russian economy. These include banking systems, which have now been written for Windows for decades.
This ultimately means even tighter restrictions might not be enough to encourage software developers to make the switch, and will do little to bolster the resilience of Russia’s ailing tech economy.
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