Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 8th Jan 2015 20:15 UTC

The latest version of North Korea's custom Linux distribution, Red Star OS - that one with the OS X style interface - has leaked onto the internet. While the guy who talked about technology in North Korea on the 31C3 conference said he didn't see anybody using Red Star seriously, it's an interesting distro to check out.

While we're making jokes about North Korea, it's easy to forget that regime puts millions of people in concentration camps to starve and murder them.

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Surprisingly sophisticated
by davidiwharper on Thu 8th Jan 2015 22:10 UTC
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I had a play with this distro the other day, and it is surprisingly sophisticated for what should, based on sanctions, be a technologically stone-age regime. (Looking at photos of the newly renovated May Day stadium in Pyongyang is like jumping into a '70s time capsule.)

A quick note on the howto before I get into my thoughts. The quickest way to change the language is to use sed once you get the root console going:

sed -i 's/ko_KP/en_US/g' /etc/sysconfig/i18n
sed -i 's/ko_KP/en_US/g' /usr/share/config/kdeglobals

Although a lot of the user-facing software is very old (KDE 3.5.1, Firefox 3.5, LibreOffice 3.5), the engineers have clearly spent a lot of time (a) making the whole interface work nicely and (b) locking the distro down so that ordinary users can't do anything they're not supposed to do.

In terms of the interface, they really have gone all out OS X on the KDE 3.5 base. There is a global menu which works in not only native UI apps but also Firefox and LibreOffice, an abstracted file system on top of the FHS, plus a CD/USB drag-to-trash eject system. There's even an OSX-style .app system, although how functional it is remains unclear.

They've also extensively modified their applications so that the UIs are consistent, and created what I can only describe as a fork of Anaconda, the system installer. Strange to say maybe, but Korean-language issues aside, I actually think that the experience is great and that the distro is easier to use than a lot of the other Windows & Mac clones out there.

Regarding the locking down, the article highlights the main issues - a special iptables configuration, so that the North Korean "intranet" is all that works by default, and no root, so you can't poke around too much. The only thing I would add is that there's also an "Activity Monitor" package, that doesn't show up for the end user and which I'm assuming phones home to the North Korean secret police if one is inside the DPRK. Once you get root, do rpm -e activitymonitor to remove it.

Edited 2015-01-08 22:12 UTC

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