DPRK’s Linux OS: Red Star

UPDATE 1:  South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Initiative (STPI) did some analysis of the DPRK’s “Red Star” (붉은 별) operating system.  A PDF of the report can be found here (in Korean).  STPI has a couple of articles here and here in Korean.

The Korea Times reports on the study’s findings (in English):

According to researchers at South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute (STEPI), North Korea’s Linux-based “RED Star” software is mainly designed to monitor the Web behavior of its citizens and control information made available to them.

However, the computer operating system does represent North Korean efforts to advance its computer technology, which lags as a result of the country’s isolation, relying on Linux and other open-source software, said Kim Jong-seon, a STEPI researcher.

“The fact that North Korea established a computer operating system to control the flow of information within the country is meaningful in itself. By improving its ability to develop Linux-based programs, North Korea seems to be looking to expand the use of its computer programs in more areas,” he said.

“There hasn’t been any research on North Korean computer operating systems and other software, and we need to assess the level of technology as well as the attempts to overcome the years of isolation through open source programs.”

Prior to developing Red Star in 2002, the North Korean government relied on the English version of Microsoft Windows, according to STEPI.

An analysis of Red Start 1.1, the version used around April 2008, suggests that the North Korean operating system is designed to provide a desktop environment similar to that of Microsoft Windows.

North Korea’s Korea Computer Center (KCC), which developed the software, has been consistently providing updated versions of the operating system, STEPI said.

Red Star’s programs include the “Uri 2.0” office application, based on the Linux Open Office, a “Naenara” (my country) Web browser, which is a variation of Firefox, a file-sharing program, and also a program to enable selected Microsoft applications.

One of the key features of Red Star is security-enhanced Linux (SELinux), which enables mandatory access control policies that limit user programs and systems servers to the minimum amount of freedom they require to do their jobs, STEPI said.

It’s hard to imagine Red Star, which supports only the Korean language, being used anywhere outside of North Korea, considering the complicated Web of local requirements, lack of compatibility and dearth of applications.

ORIGINAL POST: Below is an interesting article on the DPRK’s Linux-based operating system: Red Star.

red-star-linux.jpgNot only does North Korea have “its own Internet” – a national information network independent from the US-based Internet regulator – it also has an operating system, developed under by order of Kim Jong-il.

Russian student Mikhail, who studies in the Kim Il-sung University and writes a blog from the Russian embassy in Pyongyang, has recently purchased the Red Star Operating System (OS) and tested it. Courtesy of Mikhail, RT gives you an opportunity to take glimpse at IT life of world’s most closed country.

The Red Star is a Linux-based OS developed by North Korean IT specialists last year. Readme file, which goes with the install disc, even gives a quote from Kim Jong-il about how important for DPRK is to have its own Linux-based operating system compatible with Korean traditions.

The version tested by Mikhail is the latest build, which, according to locals, still needs polishing. The OS is not popular (yet?), with most people who need one preferring Windows XP and Windows Vista.

Mikhail bought his copy for about $5 in an information center 5 minutes walk from the university dorm. Interestingly, no permission is required for it, which is probably explained by the regulation of the sale of computers.

The system has server and client versions, and apps can be bought separately at twice the price.

redstar1.jpg

Installation of the Red Star is possible straight from the bootable disk, from hard drive, or via the net. The whole process takes 10 to 15 minutes. While the files are copied, the user is shown tips like in a Windows installation, saying that the system “is now faster and simpler”. Unlike Windows, you will not be allowed to select your system language: only Korean is available.

Then the system starts. Here is the logo on the start screen:

redstar2.jpg

User selection screen is standard. User “root” is the default one, while user “Kim” was created by Mikhail. The picture is that of a popular Korean cartoon character.

redstar3.jpg

Red Star desktop.

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Red Star cannot be called modest in terms of system requirements. You will need at least a Pentium III 800 Mhz with 256 Mb RAM and astounding 3Gb hard drive space!

The desktop is pretty much standard, with a My Computer icon, a trash bin and a link to a system tour. The red star in bottom left corner opens the system menu, while icons next to it are the quick launch panel. Notice the clock on the left – the year is 99th of the Juche Idea, the official North Korean ideology.

My Computer launches the file browser. Here is how it looks:

redstar5.jpg

Standard applications for the system are low in number: web-browser “My Country” (which is actually Firefox in disguise), a simple word processor, a picture viewer, a pdf reader, players for audio and video files, a file archiver, a virtual disk manager and stuff like calculator or symbol table. All the applications except the web-browser are named after their functionality.

The OS has its own keyboard layouts for Korean (does not match the Windows version), English, Russian, Chinese and Japanese.

There are also four games: Minesweeper, Klondike solitaire, Jawbreaker and a logic game where the player builds correct chemical formulae.

redstar6.jpg

Applications on the second disk included: service programs for the client version of Red Star, which strictly speaking should have been on the first disk, an office app suite “We”, similar to OpenOffice and another similar software suite, a program for recording CD/DVD, an e-mail client “Pigeon” (after the mail-delivering bird), Janggi board game (Korean chess), a fax communication tool, antivirus “Woodpecker”, notebook “My Comrade”, a graphics editing program, firewall “Pyongyang Fortress”, an engineer’s calculator and a Windows emulator.

redstar7.jpg

The Application Manager shown here is also used for system updates.

redstar8.jpg

Naenara web browser was successfully recognized by Firefox website, which offered downloads of the latest Korean version of the browser for Linux i686. Note that the default search engine is not Google but Naenara BBS. Since Mikhail was tinkering with the system in the embassy, where the Korean national network is not available, he had no opportunity to do some test searches.

redstar9.jpg

Mikhail did test the antivirus, however, which (along with the firewall) was built from scratch by North Korean coders rather than re-written from an open source applications. It did well at finding and killing the viruses offered to it.

redstar10.jpg

The Windows emulator worked well too. Mikhail launched Warcraft 3, and the game worked smoothly. So did the dictionary software and a digital library available on the disk.

redstar11.jpg

What is interesting for a North Korean product is the near-total absence of propaganda – unless you treat the word “red” in its name as an instance.

Read the full story here:
North Korea’s “secret cyber-weapon”: brand new Red Star OS
rt.com
3/1/010

Here is the original Russian source.

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  • PyongyangSoju

    Wow .. pretty interesting stuff that..

    I wonder if that ‘Naenara’ website is blocked in the South?

    I recall that the old .dpr site was blocked – I’m in Seoul, but a little on the soft side when it comes to entering that site into my browser.. you never know who’s watching !

  • Steve

    Looks like bog standard fedora to me.

  • tibor gaal

    Friends, this linux-based system is a good choice. They don’t have to pay rojalty for using the shoftware and they’re will not be accused by western software companies with copyright infringement. I disagree that the system requirement is not modest. In today’s linux that kind of requirement is necessary to run linux properly. Keep in mind that linux is not an MS DOS operating system built in 1980s and finished in 1990s. I think that DPRK’s linux contains a lot of applications. For office usage I wouldn’t need much more applications than offered.

  • Mark

    Can this OS be downloaded anywhere?

  • tibor gaal

    I loved Mikhail’s summary better than this South Korean one. Nowadays graphical part of linux has similar look to the MS Windows operating system That’s why REDSTAR is similarly looks to MS Windows.

  • Thomas

    That is an KDE 3.5 desktop manager. Current version of KDE is 4.4
    KDE3.5 was pretty stable. I wonder why no XFCE desktop manager was used, it consumes much less resources

  • Teddy

    Steve, Fedora uses GNOME – this is clearly built on a KDE (3 point something – did you see the screenshot of the translated version of Kmail?)

    tibor – they don’t pay royalties to Westerners, instead they pay them to the DPRK government, and since most of the programs were written under open source licenses they probably SHOULD be in trouble for charging for them.

    Also the system requirements are extremely modest, the processor requirement was impressive ten years ago – Linux distros today can run completely in the random access memory.

  • Anonymous

    Well this is good info for me about Linux Operating System. Thanks for sharing this!


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