A new policy by China's governing body the State Council will rule that all ministries have to buy only locally-produced software at the next upgrade cycle.
The move, aimed at breaking the dominance of U.S.-based Microsoft on desktop computers, will eliminate Microsoft's Windows operating system and Office productivity suite from hundreds of thousands of Chinese government computers in a few years' time.
Gao Zhigang, an official with the Procurement Center of the State Council, told reporters that the new policy will be in place by year-end.
At a special congress held to encourage ministries to upgrade to WPS Office 2003, a China-made office productivity suite, Gao said that only hardware pre-installed with domestic operating systems and application software will be purchased by government. Those seeking exceptions will need to submit a special request.
The new policy is expected to increase the number of government officials using domestic-made office software from a third to 100 percent eventually. Gao said that the new policy is meant to support the local software industry and protect state information security.
The new policy will continue till at least until 2010. These protections are standard and are not meant to discriminate against other countries, said the Council. China is a member of the World Trade Organization and it is unclear if the new bans contravene the body's charters.
"The domestic software industry is very insulated. There is poor interaction and partnership with user companies. The increased use of domestic software will make the China software industry more open," said Fei Lin, an official with the State Assets Supervision and Administration Commission.
The ban comes as part of China's efforts to challenge Western technology. Chinese software company Kingsoft used to take 90 percent of the market with its Chinese word processing tool, but lost nearly all market share to Microsoft Word when the product entered in the early 90s.
Experts say that the WPS system is the only product that will challenge Microsoft Office's dominance of the Chinese market.
In addition to commercial reasons for protecting local software, there are security concerns. China is placing official support behind the Red Flag Linux operating system, which they trust because the open-source code allows officials to see that there are no data spyholes installed by foreign powers. In response, Microsoft has been on a charm offensive, including granting the government inspection rights over Windows source code and creating a new CEO position for Greater China.
Recently, China rejected globally-dominant MPEG for its own audio-video compression standard, known as AVS. China is keen to move its IT infrastructure away from the dominance of Western companies and the fees levied by such firms.