Language Selection

English French German Italian Portuguese Spanish

Baidu.com Ready for Stock Market Debut

Filed under
Web

Baidu.com takes its name from a 900-year-old poem but its ambitions are ultramodern - to become the Chinese-language equivalent of Internet search giant Google Inc. Little known abroad, 5-year-old Baidu.com says it already is the world's sixth most-visited Internet site, thanks to a strong following from China's 100 million-plus Web surfers.

Now the startup founded by two Chinese veterans of American tech firms is preparing to follow Google's example with an initial public offering in the United States, hoping to raise $45 million. A date for the offering has not been announced.

Baidu.com is in the front ranks of an emerging group of Chinese companies that are trying to create Internet services uniquely suited to their country's ideogram-based language and the political restrictions of its communist government.

"Here's a homegrown company that has created what really is a very strong search product," said David Wolf, managing director of Wolf Group Asia, a Beijing-based consulting firm.

Baidu.com was founded in 2000 by Robin Li, who earned a master's degree in computer science from the State University of New York at Buffalo and worked for U.S. search engine firm Infoseek, and Eric Xu, a Ph.D. from Texas A&M and a veteran of American biotech firms. Xu is no longer with Baidu.com.

The name - pronounced "by doo" - means "one hundred times." It comes from a Song dynasty poem and refers to a man ardently searching for his lover in a festival crowd.

It didn't take Google long to see the firm's potential. It bought 2.6 percent of Baidu.com last year in a move that outsiders thought might lead to the American search engine taking over the tiny Chinese startup. But Baidu.com has stayed independent.

Google's influence shows, though, in Baidu.com's spare white Web site that is nearly identical to its investor's.

By contrast, competitor 3721.com - bought in 2003 by U.S.-based Yahoo! - is a busier, colorful site with animated graphics.

Other early backers include U.S.-based venture capital firms with a reputation for spotting promising newcomers: Draper Fisher Jurvetson - Baidu.com's biggest shareholder, with a 28 percent stake - and the investment arm of International Data Group.

Baidu.com's IPO is modest beside the $1.2 billion that Google raised through its public offering last August. But its tentative price for the block of shares being offered values the whole Chinese company at $650 million.

The company says it is already making money - some $303,000 for the three months that ended on March 31.

China's communist government promotes Internet use for business and education. But it has also launched sweeping efforts to police online content, blocking access to material deemed subversive or pornographic.

The extent of the censorship controls has been highlighted by the changes that foreign companies make when they launch Chinese versions of commonly used services.

Free-speech activists criticized Microsoft Corp. when the blogging section of its recently launched China-based Web portal rejected such words as democracy, freedom and human rights, labeling them "forbidden language."

A search on Google's China-based service for such topics as Taiwan, the Dalai Lama or the banned spiritual group Falun Gong returns a message that says "site cannot be found."

And communist leaders, early believers in the Internet's economic promise, seem intent on keeping foreign involvement to a minimum in order to keep the profits for China's own firms.

Baidu.com's decision to stay independent could help it with intensely nationalistic Chinese regulators, eliminating any doubts about divided loyalties, said Wolf.

"It's a company that has grown up in the Chinese system. It's going to be a favorite of a lot of partners here and an implicit favorite of the government for that reason," he said.

Internet firms with foreign partners have been challenged by regulators who demand assurances that Chinese managers will stay in place and not surrender control to outsiders.

Baidu.com, 3721.com and other Chinese search engines also face daunting linguistic challenges that designers working in English and most other languages don't.

Chinese uses thousands of ideograms. On a computer, they usually are written by typing words phonetically in Roman letters, then using special software to convert them to characters.

Making things even more complex, the mainland's communist leaders simplified many characters after the 1949 revolution, while Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and other societies use the old system.

So a search engine must sift through twice as many characters. And Chinese is written without spaces between words, making it hard for a machine to figure out where one ends and the next begins.

Then there are the quirks of a writing system with a vast literary history, 1 billion modern users and pressure to keep up with technology and international commerce. Baidu.com's advertising notes that Chinese has 38 ways to say "I."

Financial analysts forecast fast growth but brutal competition in the industry over the next few years, leaving only a handful of competitors.

Already, Baidu.com has been through a court battle with 3721.com after accusing its rival of adding elements to its software that blocked users from reaching the Baidu.com site.

A Beijing court ruled against 3721.com in April, ordering it stop such "unfair competition."

The lawsuit "did much to reinforce Baidu's underdog image," said Wolf. "That turned out to be very positive for them in China. It made people check them out."

By JOE McDONALD
Associated Press

More in Tux Machines

Security News

  • Windows 10 least secure of Windows versions: study
    Windows 10 was the least secure of of current Windows versions in 2016, with 46% more vulnerabilities than either Windows 8 or 8.1, according to an analysis of Microsoft's own security bulletins in 2016. Security firm Avecto said its research, titled "2016 Microsoft Vulnerabilities Study: Mitigating risk by removing user privileges", had also found that a vast majority of vulnerabilities found in Microsoft products could be mitigated by removing admin rights. The research found that, despite its claims to being the "most secure" of Microsoft's operating systems, Windows 10 had 395 vulnerabilities in 2016, while Windows 8 and 8.1 each had 265. The research also found that while 530 Microsoft vulnerabilities were reported — marginally up from the 524 reported in 2015 — and 189 given a critical rating, 94% could be mitigated by removing admin rights. This was up from 85% in 2015.
  • Windows 10 Creators Update can block Win32 apps if they’re not from the Store [Ed: By Microsoft Peter. People who put Vista 10 on a PC totally lose control of that PC; remember, the OS itself is malware, as per textbook definitions. With DRM and other antifeatures expect copyright enforcement on the desktop soon.]
    The latest Windows 10 Insider Preview build doesn't add much in the way of features—it's mostly just bug fixes—but one small new feature has been spotted, and it could be contentious. Vitor Mikaelson noticed that the latest build lets you restrict the installation of applications built using the Win32 API.
  • Router assimilated into the Borg, sends 3TB in 24 hours
    "Well, f**k." Harsh language was appropriate under the circumstances. My router had just been hacked. Setting up a reliable home network has always been a challenge for me. I live in a cramped three-story house, and I don't like running cables. So my router's position is determined by the fiber modem in a corner on the bottom floor. Not long after we moved in, I realized that our old Airport Extreme was not delivering much signal to the attic, where two game-obsessed occupants fought for bandwidth. I tried all sorts of things. I extended the network. I used Ethernet-over-powerline connectors to deliver network access. I made a mystic circle and danced naked under the full moon. We lost neighbors, but we didn't gain a signal.
  • Purism's Librem 13 Coreboot Port Now "100%" Complete
    According to Purism's Youness Alaoui, their Coreboot port to the Librem 13 v1 laptop is now considered complete. The Librem 13 was long talked about having Coreboot over a proprietary BIOS while the initial models still had shipped with the conventional BIOS. Finally in 2017, they have now Coreboot at what they consider to be 100% complete for this Linux-friendly laptop.
  • The Librem 13 v1 coreboot port is now complete
    Here are the news you’ve been waiting for: the coreboot port for the Librem 13 v1 is 100% done! I fixed all of the remaining issues, it is now fully working and is stable, ready for others to enjoy. I fixed the instability problem with the M.2 SATA port, finished running all the tests to ensure coreboot is working correctly, fixed the headphone jack that was not working, made the boot prettier, and started investigating the Intel Management Engine issue.
  • Linux Update Fixes 11-Year-Old Flaw
    Andrey Konovalov, a security researcher at Google, found a use-after-free hole within Linux, CSO Online reported. This particular flaw is of interest because it appears to be situational. It only showed up in kernels built with a certain configuration option — CONFIG_IP_DCCP — enabled.

Kerala saves Rs 300 cr as schools switch to open software

The Kerala government has made a saving of Rs 300 crore through introduction and adoption of Free & Open Source Software (FOSS) in the school education sector, said a state government official on Sunday. IT became a compulsory subject in Kerala schools from 2003, but it was in 2005 only that FOSS was introduced in a phased manner and started to replace proprietary software. The decision made by the curriculum committee to implement it in the higher secondary sector has also been completed now. Read more

Tired of Windows and MAC computer systems? Linux may now be ready for prime time

Are you a bit tired of the same old options of salt and pepper, meaning having to choose only between the venerable Windows and MAC computer operating systems? Looking to branch out a bit, maybe take a walk on the wild side, learn some new things and save money? If so, the Linux operating system, which has been around for a long time and is used and loved by many hard-core techies and developers, may now be ready for prime time with the masses. Read more

Braswell based Pico-ITX SBC offers multiple expansion options

Axiomtek’s PICO300 is a Pico-ITX SBC with Intel Braswell, SATA-600, extended temperature support, and both a mini-PCIe and homegrown expansion connector. Axiomtek has launched a variation on its recently announced Intel Apollo Lake based PICO312 SBC that switches to the older Intel Braswell generation and offers a slightly reduced feature set. The board layout has also changed somewhat, with LVDS, SATA, and USB ports all changing location. Read more