The recent events related to the unprecedented sanctions against Russia have also affected the sphere of IT technologies. The mass exit of Western companies and the termination of support for software products caused significant damage to the IT infrastructure. However, this damage is far from lethal. This statement is explained by three factors, the first of which is the not-too-high informatization of management processes (especially in the military sphere). The second factor is that most of the critical elements of the IT infrastructure have been transferred to free operating systems (primarily Linux like). The third factor is that a significant part of the backbone networks, as well as the mobile communication infrastructure, are made on the equipment of Chinese manufacturers (mainly Huawei). All these make it possible to significantly reduce the costs of sanctions at the initial stage.
Another area that has suffered a significant blow is the personnel of Russian IT companies. Many of these companies are subsidiaries of transnational corporations and may be closed, while the rest have lost numerous foreign orders. That is, a number of programmers may lose their sources of income. Despite the fact that earlier many IT specialists and other highly qualified personnel chose economic immigration, in recent years, the opposite movement has been increasingly observed – against the background of excesses with tolerance and other destructive phenomena in the Western world and the alignment of Russian salaries (at least in Moscow) with foreign ones. And after the oppression of Russian native speakers in the European Union, only the most desperate and short-sighted will choose this path. At the same time, there has been a serious shortage of personnel in the Russian IT market for a long time; so, if even someone has difficulties with working in the IT field due to sanctions, they will not be crucial.
In addition, as foreign IT software leaves, Russian companies are faced with the challenge of replacing sanctioned software with Russian counterparts, which will require an additional number of IT specialists of all specialties; that is, unemployment in this area is not yet expected. But the task of replacing imported analogues of everyday applications is just patching holes. Russia usually responds to challenges of this magnitude in a completely different way, starting new projects (as it was with the sanctions on food supplies: five years after, the country became one of the world's leading agricultural powers and moved from a primarily importer of many commodity items to a commodity exporter).
This should happen this time as well, it is just necessary to decide on a project that will bring Russia to a leading position in the IT industry. In our opinion, such a project could be the development of a new operating system based on Linux for mobile devices. It should become an alternative to Android, iOS, and in the future, replace them on mobile devices manufactured in China. Right now, there are ideal conditions for such a project.
It should be noted that in Russia, there are already quite serious competencies in developing their own operating systems, mainly based on Linux. This is the family of Rosa Linux distributives, which have server and desktop versions and are constantly updated; RED OS is used in many government organizations and (since 2020) in Huawei Taishan 2280 servers; ALT Linux distributions are well-known and widely used in various fields, including education (since 2018, they have been supporting Russian processors Elbrus); and, finally, the Astra Linux operating system, which provides comprehensive information protection at the kernel level and is oriented towards development of secure automated systems (it is in demand in Russian law enforcement agencies and government agencies). However, most solutions of Russian operating systems are primarily focused on desktop and server versions. To our knowledge, only Astra Linux and Rosa Linux have mobile versions, which is absolutely not enough.
Participation in the development of a new operating system should not be limited to Russian companies. Recall that Google participated in the sanctions against Huawei and stopped supporting Android for the equipment of this company. After that, an attempt to create their own operating system began to be made in China. Now the interests of the two countries have coincided, and numerous free working hands have appeared that are able to quickly implement this project.
The situation is alleviated by the fact that China's gigantic foreign currency reserves are under threat of confiscation and it is better to materialize them now into more tangible assets. The high-tech sector is a fairly good financial investment. Therefore, co-financing and coordination of such a project from the Chinese side can greatly reduce the time of work and increase the motivation of the participants. In fact, alternative operating systems already exist and are trying to develop (for example, the Finnish Sailfish OS), but they lack the financial support and mass adoption in devices that Russia and China could provide jointly.
Any project in the IT industry is not limited only to the development of a product; much more attention and costs need to be invested in subsequent user support. These are constant product updates, elimination of identified code deficiencies, and preparation of technical documentation. But the first urgent step should be the organization of a software store where independently created software products will be laid out (first of all, this is a package of office programs and basic management utilities). This can be implemented on the basis of already developing platforms, such as the Global Developer Service Alliance, as well as new platform.
A separate task should be to organize a group to update the code of the operating system's own kernel. This is a task that requires the greatest qualifications of programmers and which has not yet been completely solved either in China or in Russia. The next task should be to create a system for supporting hardware solutions, including the rapid development of drivers for new types of equipment.
The release of the first personal device based on Chinese mobile processors and with a new operating system will immediately be a huge step forward and will mean the complete independence of China and Russia from existing technologies. After that, the development of the IT industry will take two independent routes, and competition will have a positive impact in all areas of the economics. On the basis of such devices, it is possible to create jobs in production and in offices.
Briefly formulating all of the above, we list the main stages that should be carried out as part of the project to create a new operating system for mobile devices:
- Determination of the initial composition of the equipment of the mobile device with the highest computing power.
- Compiling a Linux distribution for this configuration, including the configuration of the kernel and drivers.
- Preparation of an application software packages.
- Solving the issue of the conditions for the transfer of super user rights.
- Kernel modification work.
- Inclusion of the virtualization server into the operating system.
It should be noted that it is quite possible that one of the operating systems mentioned earlier (or other developments both in Russia and in China) already meet the basic requirements. This means the project will not need to start from scratch, and will be able to speed up its implementation by starting immediately to adapt the operating system to hardware solutions based on Chinese mobile processors. (This requires a separate study.)
There comes a time not only of crisis, but also of great opportunities. And here, it is important to take advantage of these new opportunities. It becomes clear that the new model of the IT industry will be tested in Russia in the near future.
Andrei Sukhov ([email protected]) is a Professor of HSE University, Moscow, Russia. A senior member of the ACM. Aleksandr Romanov ([email protected]) is an Associate Professor and Head of CAD Laboratory of HSE University, Moscow, Russia.