The failed Taiwan software industry policy

The failed Taiwan software industry policy

Taiwan

Perhaps I should change the title to “Taiwan has not had an effective science and technology industry policy for 40 years” After I published another blog post, “South Korea’s emerging technology giant“, I asked myself, “How many Taiwanese know that our indispensable communication software Line and games most Taiwanese are playing are from South Korea?”

Of course, many Taiwanese will comfort themselves with “It is not technically difficult to develop communication software Line and online games!” But why now, in our daily lives, most Taiwanese “use Line communication software when lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, play online games from China or South Korea, follow dramas from China or South Korea, shop on the most popular e-commerce sites founded by Chinese”? Apparently, there are big problems on Taiwan software development.

Taiwan software

Information technology lags behind the world by a large margin

Taiwan’s largest internet forum PTT is a work from the ancient times of BBS thirty years ago and the age of dinosaurs before the advent of the Internet browser. Then a bunch of people nestled on it every day to post, and a bunch of media were also happy to refer. Now the whole people use Japan and South Korea for development, but there are few people in the world using Line again. No one asks why Taiwan, which claims to be a big information country, can’t even develop a communication software.

I also saw a piece of news last year. A young college student in Taiwan believed that Acer’s laptop market was the second largest in the world, but why the product price is not high? The overall evaluation abroad is not very good, and the company’s stock price is not good. I shook my head when I saw this news. In the past 20 years, Acer’s laptop ranked number two for only one season (when Ranchi was the CEO), most of the time it was fourth or fifth.

This is common sense in technology industry. Laptops are now like TVs. They are no longer high-tech products (please refer to my explanation on section 3-1 in my book “The Rules of Super Growth Stocks Investing”). There are probably only Taiwanese in the world who are proud of it, keep thinking of it as the “light of Taiwan.”

No longer 4 Asian dragons, Korean ignores Taiwan

I know that most people don’t care; but most people in Taiwan are seriously out of touch with the whole world without realizing it. Many people still feel good about themselves living in the dream of the Asian Tigers. This is the big problem. Up to now, Taiwan wants to compare with South Korea in every aspect, always thinking that it is a neighboring country with a similar industrial structure. However, South Korea has never regarded Taiwan as an opponent, and only Taiwan has always been have this wishful thinking.

South Korea started to target Japan 20 years ago (Japan’s GDP is 5.082 trillion U.S. dollars, ranking third in the world); now this goal is very close, Even Japan’s own Japan Center for Economic Research (JCER) predicted in January 2022 that Japan’s per capita GDP will fall behind South Korea in 2027. In terms of GDP, South Korea’s GDP is 1.646 trillion US dollars and is now the tenth largest economy in the world (Taiwan 0.669 trillion US dollars, ranking 21st), South Korea has long been a member of the G20.

According to the latest statistics from mainland China in 2022, the GDP of Guangdong Province in 2021 will be RMB 12.436967 trillion. Guangdong Province has surpassed South Korea’s national GDP, and South Korea is #10 GDP country in the world. Thirty years ago, Taiwan was the twelfth largest trading nation in the world.

These are things that we Taiwanese don’t say on the surface, but are deeply rooted in our hearts and despise. But China and South Korea are far ahead of us now, and we are just keep silent, being an ostrich, assumed Taiwan is the center of the universe, regard Taiwan is first position in all areas, and cannot tolerate facts and criticism or review, sour grapes, looking for reasons, and denying others.

The following is the GDP of Taiwan-related countries announced by the United Nations in 2020:

CountryCountry GDP(ranking), million USDGDP per capita(ranking), USDnote
US20,893,740(#1)63,123(#9)G20 member
China14,722,801(#2)10,229(#81)G20 member
Japan5,057,750(#3)39,990(#32)G20 member
South Korea1,637,896(#10)31,947(#35)G20 member
Singapore339,988(#38)58,114(#12)
Hong Kong349,445(#40)46,611(#25)
Taiwan669,324(#22)28,383(#40)

Find excuses for the failing

Over the decades, we have learned to find excuses for failures. We will only deny the achievements of others, and we will turn a blind eye to any fact that is better than Taiwan. We have learned that only ourselves are the best in the world, and that others are inferior to us. We only enjoy the achievements left by my predecessors, stand still with no progress, close the door and enjoy the little luck, and will not work hard.

No one is allowed to tell the truth, whether within Taiwan or internationally, and to have different opinions or negative criticisms of Taiwan, even if it is factual. There is no review, only the self-intoxication and self-comfort of big inner propaganda, causing most Taiwanese to regard right and wrong as a symbol of unity, and spend our time and energy on these things.

It seems that the whole people don’t care about the country’s future and competitiveness, and then sit back and watch as the advantages we once had are lost bit by bit in the past two decades, and let the rival countries that used to be far behind us all surpass us now– But most Taiwanese are not aware of it, because we are all in a situation where we feel good about ourselves, and this is the scary part.

Another group of people will find excuses for Taiwan; our population is less than half of South Korea, and China is 60 times that of Taiwan; it is only natural that they are stronger than us. I even disagree with this reason. Except Taiwan’s small territory, other aspects such as population, GDP, and import and export trade volume are the three main indicators used by the world to measure national strength. Taiwan ranks about more than 20.

Is it a small country among more than 220 countries in the world? Of course not, but in terms of GDP and the volume of import and export trade, of course, it is much worse than 20 years ago, because we are almost standing still. Twenty years ago, Taiwan almost ranked ten or twelve. Twenty years ago, almost all of our industries and GDP surpassed South Korea,now what? Let me cite two so-called small countries as examples:

  • Netherlands: The earliest concept of the stock market originated in the Netherlands. I don’t need to elaborate on the national strength of the Netherlands. I just need to cite one item. The only thing that Taiwan can talk about at this moment. The destiny of TSMC, which is proud of all Taiwanese, is actually in the hands of the world’s largest semiconductor equipment manufacturer, ASML (ticker: ASML), which is located in the Netherlands. As long as ASML does not sell its extreme ultraviolet lithography machine to TSMC like it did to SMIC, TSMC will not survive, stock will collapse; no matter how TSMC engineers sell their liver, how rich it is, how many orders it has, how government support it, how good the technology is, it’s all useless.
  • For ththis moment, Israel’s population is only 8.5 million people, around one third of Taiwan. The country is smaller than Taiwan, around 2 third of Taiwan, and lacks resources. Even the water recovery rate must be as high as 90% to survive. Not only that, the largest number of non-North America companies listed on the U.S. stock market is mainland China, as everyone knows. But I bet that most Taiwanese don’t know that the second largest number of non-US companies listed on U.S. stocks is Israel! Every year, countless Israeli startups are merged by US listed companies. (please refer to my blog post “Beyond your imagination of Israel’s strong venture capital and tech strength“) Even Taiwan has many important military technologies from this small country. Why? This was not the case in Taiwan before.

Less than 10 Taiwan software listed companies in 2 decades

Let’s take a look at Taiwan’s recent forty years, how many large software-only listed companies in Taiwan? My standard is to sell packaged software, and the products can be sold to companies in any foreign country; therefore, e-commerce and human resources are not included. Software companies considered by ordinary people such as intermediary networks, project contracting, etc.:

CompanyFounded YearAreaStock codeAchievements
Data Systems1982ERPChina: 300378Tiptop is its most famous product. Delisted in 2014 from Taiwan stock market, re-branded and went public in China
ULead1985MultimediaThe first listed software company in Taiwan OCT marketPhotostyler ever was the largest competitor of Adobe Photoshop. Now, it’s under Corel.
Trend Micro1988AntiVirusUS ticker: TMICY and
Japan: 4704
Was one of top three antivirus company worldwide. Not popular any more after Windows built-in antivirus function.
Softstar Entertainment1988Game Taiwan: 6111China Mobile Games acquired 51% of Beijing Softstar’s equity, authorized game distribution of Legend of Sword and Fairy, Xuanyuan Sword and Monopoly.
InterServ1989GameTaiwan: 6169Game accounted for 58.78%, human head dispatch service 41.22%. Money-losing still.
Gamania1991GameTaiwan: 6180Main revenue comes from the agency distribution of “Lineage” and “MapleStory”
Yam1995Search engineNever IPONo ambition, The management team spends too much time on matters outside the company and has been disbanded
CyberLink1996MultimediaTaiwan: 5203The company rised with PowerDVD, a CD-burning software. Now is famous for its PowerDirector.
Gorilla Technology 2001Artificial Inteligency Nasdaq: GPRRFacial recognition
Appier2012Artificial InteligencyJapan: 4180Customer and market analysis.

No software company wants to list in Taiwan

Please note that apart from Appier, none of them has been established in the past 20 years, and the company’s market value has always been small, no market share, market exposure, or technology leaderships in the industry. And have you ever thought about why these few remaining major software vendors in Taiwan are racing to go to Japan and China for listing? Why? The answer is very important. I leave it to the reader to think about it.

The above-mentioned famous software companies in Taiwan all have a glorious past. Ulead’s Photostyler was once Photoshop’s biggest competitor, TrendMicro used to be one of the top three antivirus companies in the world. Data Systems once led the top three local ERP vendors in China. Yam was established three years earlier than Google (ticker: GOOGL and GOOG); not to mention the three major Internet portals Sina (ticker: SINA), NetEase (ticker: NTES), Sohu (ticker: SOHO) earlier than China, has the leading advantage of entering the market early.

It is almost difficult for InterServ’s products to go out of Taiwan, and the main revenue of Gamania still comes from the agency distribution of games. Even though it was also a game agency at the beginning, Tencent (ticker: TCEHY) entered much later than InterServ and Gamania, but Tencent is now the world’s largest game company (see my book “The Rules of Super Growth Stocks Investing”, section 3-4). Why the software industry in Taiwan has become what it is today, I personally think there are several major factors:

Taiwan’s ostrich mentality

There is a phenomenon that in addition to the deep-rooted sense of superiority, many Taiwanese always think that mainland China is still the place where only low-quality and low-value-added products are made. Most Taiwanese are unwilling to affirm the achievements of others, always think Taiwanese is the best, and Taiwan ranked first in every way.

When Taiwan’s national strength and competitiveness have kept declining significantly in recent years, people has pointed finger at mainland China, believing that Chinese have robbed Taiwanese jobs. Should we blame the people who already have a job because we are not able to find a job?

The software industry is the most typical industry that requires a huge market and a population to gain a foothold. Taiwanese (compared to other countries) have language advantages, and have more capital advantages in the early days (now this advantage is completely gone), and should be used wisely.

This market in Mainland China and abundant and excellent manpower (20 years ago, a monthly salary of RMB 1,000 could hire software engineers who graduated from top universities in Mainland China in Shanghai. Now, at this price, not able to find any employee in remote provinces in western China). These opportunities have fallen, Taiwanese missed. Time and advantage were lost bit by bit, and then watched the rise of many software giants on the other side and the Western software giants.

Nationality of Taiwanese

Taiwan is a typical immigrant society and island country. It only attaches importance to short-term interests and rarely carries out long-term planning. Even though it is the age of the Internet, the rapid flow of information, and the ease of personnel traveling around the world, these changes have not changed the narrow-minded Taiwanese, who will always only compare themselves with the Taiwanese themselves, and be complacent with the status quo and the business results left by the previous generation.

People is ignorant of the facts, does not care about the world outside Taiwan, and refuses to accept that Taiwan has fallen far behind other countries in many aspects, but everyone seems to be complacent. I hate people abuse the use of term such as the “mountain of protection of the country” or the “light of Taiwan”. Did U.S., China, or Japan mention that they have a mountain of protection for the country or the light of the United States?

It’s hard to see that 70% of Taiwan stocks are now found in electronic ODMs. The three major science parks still occupy the bulk of Taiwan’s exports– but everyone has forgotten one very basic thing. These are all industries planned forty years ago. And most of the manufacturers have very low margin. All they have in mind are subcontracting to the mainland China to reduce cost.

Now the cost and labor in the mainland China have been rising, and the cost will not be lower than that in Taiwan in a few years. Is it possible to subcontract to Bangladesh or Africa like the garment industry? More importantly, this is not a long-term solution, because the orders and technology have always been in the hands of the American companies (please refer to my book “The Rules of Super Growth Stocks Investing”, section 1-6).

Taiwanese don’t want to give up ODM and foundries

As I mentioned in sections 3-7 of my book “The Rules of Super Growth Stocks Investing”; the market value of the electronic information industry accounts for more than 67.36% of the Taiwan stock market value, of which the semiconductor group accounts for 37.46% of the Taiwan stock market; far ahead of the first 2 financial stocks accounted for 4.876%. In Taiwan, 65% of GDP is exported, and 30% of exports are electronic components. In October 2019, the market value of listed semiconductors exceeded NT$10 trillion, of which TSMC’s market value accounted for 8 trillion.

The six major electronics foundries in Taiwan (Compal, Foxconn, Inventec, Pegatron, Quanta, and Wistron) totaled $296 billion in revenue in 2017, plus TSMC (you forget, TSMC is a typical electronics contract manufacturers), for a total of US$327.1 billion, accounting for almost 57% of Taiwan’s 2017 GDP of US$574.9 billion!

Taiwan is small, people contempt software, no ambitions

The software industry is very different from other industries. The world’s big software companies are all behemoth-level technology giants, and must have been born in populous countries such as China and the United States; such as Alphabet, Microsoft (ticker: MSFT), Meta Platforms (ticker: META), Oracle (ticker: ORCL), Alibaba (ticker: BABA), Tencent (ticker: TCEHY).

SAP (ticker: SAP) is the only exception, because the Germans have mastered the process automation of industrial production. This is not a coincidence, because the biggest advantage of software and its characteristic is large-scale, which can easily sweep a huge market and population (see I explained it on section 3-2 of my book “The Rules of Super Growth Stocks Investing”).

It is already 2021, and there are still many people in Taiwan who believe that the hardware is only eligible for pricing, but the software is invisible, so why do you have to pay? I personally think that this is the fundamental reason why there is no software industry in Taiwan and is flooded with hardware and electronics manufacturing thinking. It’s just that many industrial and commercial elders in power are reluctant to explain it.

There are special reasons why Taiwan, which was ridiculed by the Americans as the kingdom of software pirates 20 – 30 years ago , as the three major software vendors in Taiwan can survive. Ulead’s multimedia products are only sold in foreign markets or for foreign OEMs. TrendMicro’s antivirus program cannot update the latest virus patterns without payment. Data Systems ERP software cannot rollout without the assistance of Data Systems.

Almost all Taiwanese companies are accustomed to receiving stable orders, only seeking to reduce costs, unwilling to take risks in global marketing, rarely (or more appropriately, not allowed) have new ideas or new thinking, and are unwilling to set up ambitious challenges like the unwritten rules laid down by Silicon Valley; these are fatal injuries that fail to become world-class software vendors.

Taiwan doesn’t really understand the software industry

The software industry mainly relies on people, not assets, nor military managment, nor factories, nor advanced equipment. The foundry thinking of these Taiwanese people is all useless. What it needs is to find a large number of excellent talents and continue to burn money. Generally speaking, engineering research and development (that is, writing programs) is only a small part of it, but it is not the key reason for success.

What software needs more is bold and subversive ideas, communication, the cultivation of the local environment, the marketing and promotion of the market, the support of policies, and even the preferential budget and taxation, in order to succeed; and the software industry is changing very fast, and it is facing immediate challenges from large and small companies around the world. , the probability of survival is much lower than that of hardware and foundry. These are all things that Taiwanese have never thought about and are unwilling to try. It can be seen that the lack of a decent software industry in Taiwan is not caused overnight.

Government has never had software industrial policy

There is no policy support, lack of subsidy policies, let alone support or attention from the general public. The United States has Silicon Valley, and the demand for software talents is unlimited. Tens of thousands of H1B visas are issued every year, and a huge number of software engineers are imported from all over the world. The three major software settlements of Shenzhen, Beijing, and Hangzhou in mainland China also have the same situation. According to the annual salary level survey of employees in various industries in China and the United States, the package level for software engineers will always beat down most industry.

Industrial parks all over Taiwan are still the investment and design thinking and management logic of the electronics manufacturing plant in the Li Guoding era. Taiwan is well-known for its Nangang Software Park. I think interested readers can actually go there and know how many of them are truly local software companies and how much their total turnover is.

Software talent is not applicable

Are there no software talents in Taiwan? No, many people don’t know that software majors are the largest number of professionals cultivated every year by schools at all levels in Taiwan, and there are more of them than electronics or electrical. To put it a lot lower, if you have studied microelectronics, electron physics, and engineering mathematics, which are compulsory for electronic and electrical students).

Schools at all levels above high school in Taiwan may not have departments related to electronics and electrical engineering, but almost all of them will have departments related to software. In addition to higher vocational schools, there are data processing departments, the five years colleges, the university of science and technology, and the engineering colleges of general universities have software or information technology departments. What’s even better is that the general universities in Taiwan’s business school also have information management departments. This alone has cultivated countless information technology and software talents.

Where did these people go after graduation? Except for the two relatively less challenging tasks of general company network management and writing some network programs, I believe that most of them are no longer in the software industry, because there are not many large software companies in Taiwan, which is a pity. But no one seems to be paying attention to it.

ITRI and III

In particular, the III (Institute for Information Industry) established in 1979 is directly related to software. In addition to continuing to take office, people now suspect that other than politically mediocre high-level personnel changes, and taking advantage of its capital and state-owned enterprises to compete with none-SOE for profit, and to contract large-scale projects everywhere.

For decades, it is hard to see that they have helped Taiwan’s software industry in any way; or have spawned any world-class or well-known software company listed in the US stock market. Interested readers can check the purpose of the establishment of III, and compare it with the transcripts handed over decades since its establishment. I believe there is a gap with the expectations of most people in Taiwan.

For forty to fifty years, thousands of compilers in our ITRI (Industrial Technology Research Institute) and the III, after spending astronomical budgets, have ever developed any large-scale commercial packaged software products for general use or export? Such as operating system, Office software, social software, communication software; none of them. However, China, Japan, and South Korea have a bunch of examples, and many companies have gone public because of their successful products, and even defeated Microsoft or Alphabet companies in the same field of competing software.

Government itself doesn’t take it seriously

Let me give another example. Taiwan claims to be a big information technology country, and the implementation of a digital ID card has been noisy for 20 years. People in the country have to put a driver’s license, ID card, health insurance card, and natural person certificate in their wallets when they go out; even tax declarations now have three or four ways to check their identity.

In 2017, our government also made a joke. The government encouraged people to file tax online. As a result, a bunch of people reported that their Apple (ticker: AAPL) computers (according to Apple’s own statement and IDC’s market survey: Apple computers account for about 10% of the global market) It is hard to do the job, the success rate of tax filing software online tax filing is extremely low. The Ministry of Finance of the competent unit actually suggested “borrowing a (Windows) computer from a friend” to solve this problem.

To give another example, in 2021, the government issued a NT$5,000 promotion coupon for each citizen, and refused to continue to appeal to the majority of people to change to the simple cash distribution used by countries around the world. The whole people need to register online before going to the physical place to get the coupons. As a result, as soon as the system went online, the website was suspended; the matter was not over yet, and the code was discovered by curious people completely plagiarized from the famous software website CSDN in mainland China (similar to the famous Stack Overflow website in the United States).

The program annotations are not missing a word. A government that claims builds on technology all the time, speaks and rebels against China, cannot even write this simple internet program in the software industry, and needs to steal the ideas of the enemy on the other side that it despise every day, as a taxpayer can only be speechless. (Note: Taiwan’s tax declaration software or other core and important software are developed by the listed SOE company Trade-Van.)

In addition, our government is addicted to asking people to register online. Just forget about tax filing online, to book Eastern Trains ticket for Chinese Lunar New Year’s period, you need to grab tickets online, you need to go online for vaccination willing registration, you need to go online to book hospital time slot for vaccination shot, you need to go online for revitalization coupons, and a bunch of government department coupons also go online.

It stands to reason that the internet age has been more than 20 years, and government units should be very familiar with a bunch of internet systems. But not at all. Every year, every government system that only concerns the Internet for all people will crash as soon as they get online. As for traffic jams, it is commonplace for all people to waste time. The number of people in Taiwan’s government system at the same time is remarkable. There will be several million people in the first few hours of the first day, and it will drop to hundreds of thousands afterwards.

Companies from all over the world and mainland China, the popular game company, online movies, online music, Apple and Alphabet’s online store, are all online at the same time by hundreds of millions or even more than one billion people. Why they don’t get crash or traffic jam always, and run into this situation? And these examples I specifically cite are all overloaded systems that take up a lot of bandwidth and a lot of data uploading and downloading, which is technically difficult, instead of a general social network that only transmits text, short videos, and photos.

Compared with the difficulty of any of these systems I mentioned, these systems of our government can only be regarded as kindergarten pediatrics. At most, they only transmit a very small amount of data such as text and numbers. The government’s system is not well done, and it has been the case for more than ten years. But our government spends a huge amount of people’s hard-earned money every year. There has been no improvement for decades, let alone projects experience accumulation.

The people here seem to be accustomed and indifferent to accept it, and it’s a pitty most people don’t know how much progress has been made in the world outside of Taiwan, and the system that we pay taxes should not look like this.

Please note we are in 21st century? Don’t we call ourselves a big information country at every turn? Don’t forget that we also have a talented information minister that we created by ourselves!

A software colony of other countries

Taiwan is a software colony of other countries in every way. We use Windows, Mac, Office, Chrome browsers, iOS, Android, LINE, Facebook, Instagram, Shopee, NetFlix, iQiyi, TikTok, Bilibili on our mobile phones and computers “every day”, as well as the most popular game software such as Fortress Heroes game devices on Nintendo, X-Box, Play Station, and computers, which one was developed by Taiwanese?

Postscript

The United States, China (The situation is special, because the technology giants are all listed on the U.S. and Hong Kong stocks. At present, only CATL and BYD are listed on the mainland China), Hong Kong, and Japan are the world’s top four largest stock markets by market capitalization. Except South Korea and China, the top listed companies in all regions by market capitalization; most of them are pure software companies or software companies in a broad sense. Why? Investors can think about this issue carefully.

The media reported that Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla (ticker: TSLA), often visited officials and manufacturers in Taiwan when Tesla was not yet developed, hoping that Taiwanese factories could become Tesla’s suppliers. Of course, at that time he was very low. Yang James, general manager of Innolux, asked him, “The reason why Taiwan can’t make a Tesla EV?” He mocked Taiwan: “James, you have a higher education than me. You have a good location in Taiwan, but you can never make a Tesla.” “Because you lack the talents for integration, the talents for imagination!”

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