posted by Thom Holwerda on Thu 4th Mar 2010 20:08 UTC
IconChoson Minjujuui Inmin Konghwaguk, here in the west more commonly known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea or North Korea, is a country you usually read about in the foreign affairs section of the newspaper. As a logical consequence of its Juche ideology, North Korea has developed its own Linux distribution.

North Korea has its own internet, which exists outside of the regular internet that we know. In addition, as has been revealed, the country has also developed its own Linux distribution called the Red Star Operating System, clearly a KDE 3.x-based environment with several North Korean touches.

For instance, the date and time are presented in Juche years, which is exactly like the Gregorian calendar except that it starts in 1912, the birth year of Kim Il-sung (김일성 in Korean - I love Wikipedia), North Korea's "Eternal President". Firefox is called "My Country", and there's a notebook application called "My Comrade". Some of the code is written by North Korea itself, such as the "Woodpecker" antivirus program, or the "Pyongyang Fortress" firewall.

The smart cookies among you might already be wondering how we know all this stuff - since North Korea is pretty much sealed off from the outside world, this kind of information rarely leaks out. Luck has it that a Russian student, studying at the university of Pyongyang (Kim Il-sung University, in case you hadn't figured that one out yet), bought the operating system for 5 USD at an information centre.

He was able to install it at the Russian embassy, and there, he played with it, providing us with screenshots and other pieces of information. Apparently, Red Star has been commissioned by Kim Jong-il, the current North Korean leader, and according to people on the street, isn't quite polished yet. It is also not popular yet, with people preferring Windows XP and Vista. Everybody can buy it freely - however, since the sale of computers is heavily restricted, few would have a use for it.

I like stories like this. I like this because it offers a very rare glimpse into a world we rarely get to see. The western world tends to forget that underneath that horrid regime, there's real people living and breathing in North Korea, with their own hopes, dreams, and fears. It is stories like this that help us remember that despite the despicable nature of their regime, North Koreans are still people like you and me, and their well-being should be top consideration in any decision we may ever take regarding the country.

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