Wednesday, March 3, 2010

North Korea’s Own OS

“Juche” is a concept at the core of the ideology of the Kim Jong-Il regime in North Korea; loosely translated it means “self-reliance”. Apparently the Juche ideal extends even to computers and the Internet – North Korea already operates its own Internet-like information network, free from the oversight of the United States-based group ICANN, which regulates the use of Internet domains and addresses around the rest of the world. Now, North Korea is also offering up its own Linux-based OS called the “Red Star Operating System”.

Thanks to a Pyongyang-based student/correspondent, Russia Today is giving us a first-person test drive of Red Star (along with RT’s own NoKo-inspired take on the Linux penguin logo). According to “Mikhail”, Red Star is a pretty decent OS, albeit one that requires a relatively new processor and a good chunk of hard drive space (3 gigs) to run. The basic Red Star install includes a word processor, web browser, picture viewer, media player, and of course, a small selection of games like “minesweeper” (no word on whether or not the NK version of minesweeper is set in the DMZ between the two Koreas). A selection of applications that include a graphics editor, email client, notebook program (called “My Comrade”) and Windows emulator is available separately. Mikhail had Red Star up and running in about 15 minutes.

Mikhail’s review of Red Star provides an interesting insight into the way North Korea – the world’s most secretive nation – operates. It also reminded me of this story from last February about the Cuban government launching their own Linux-based OS, which they called “Nova”. The Cubans developed their own OS as a way to exercise their “technological sovereignty” and avoid, they claim, backdoors built into other operating systems by US security agencies.

The developments in Cuba and North Korea would seem to beg the question: will home-built computer operating systems become the latest tool of oppressive regimes around the world?
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