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North Korea mobilizes Red Star Linux rollout

Shoddy communist-era construction?

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Critics have often contended open source is a communist movement, and now North Korea is following Cuba and China by building its own Linux operating system.

The Stalinist hangover from the Cold War is reported to have devised its own statist Linux in a country that had run Windows XP on the few PCs within its borders.

Red Star Linux features a browser called My Country, inspired by the Red North's Juche philosophy of self-reliance. Like so many UN aid packages to the North, though, this also turns out to be little more than a prop imported from the capitalist west: My Country is really Firefox, a Russian student reviewing Red Star said.

Other features are an audio and video player, text editor - and three games.

Red Star Linux was devised in 2002 and is still "not entirely stable" the reviewer said - but what can you expect from QA process where you're shot for questioning the Dear Leader's command line?

South Korea's Science and Technology Policy Institute (STEPI) is reported to have said North Korea is now expanding the presence of Red Star Linux, adding that the distro can control the web-viewing habits of those using it and the flow of information they receive.

It was reported five years ago that just a tight circle of the North's citizens and leaders, including the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il, had access to a PC. Kim, though, proclaimed the importance of the "IT age" in 2001 on the 60th anniversary of the ruling Worker's Party and a great leap forward began.

Why the embrace of computing for the masses?

One reason could be that the impoverished North is taking its lead from its chief benefactor, the People's Republic of China. The PRC has experienced explosive economic growth with an influx of foreign tech companies and a mushrooming netizen culture in a environment in which the state has succeeded in retaining tight and effective control of the web.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea already has, after all, it's own web site to tempt punters, here.

The rollout of Linux-powered PCs could also be to serve darker purposes: to groom growing ranks of proletarian and peasant geeks for cyber attacks. The US Pentagon last year said that attacks on South Korean and US government web sits and communications networks were the work of Lab 110, a secret unit of the North's Ministry of People's Armed Forces that specializes in hacking.

Finally, it seems, the Marxists could be about to throw our own communist bits and bytes back at us. ®

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