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Tech Thursday – In Communist North Korea, Linux Runs You

I wanted to get away from the hacking stories for a bit and when I saw this, I was kind of flabbergasted to discover that North Korea is not only building and developing netbooks for business and education for use in their country, but they also have their own version of Linux to run the netbooks with. It’s called Red Star.

Daily Life In Pyongyang
Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images

OK, jokes over. They’re not really building it. They’re just re-branding netbooks made by Sylvania. They’re around $80 and come with Windows CE installed on them if you buy them in the store. But the low power ARM CPU in them, makes them kind of “wonky” to run. Fine for checking emails, or  edit your word processing documents, but don’t expect to play Halo on these things.

And it appears the North Korean Government has created it’s own version of Linux to run on it too. It’s called Red Star and you can run it for yourself! They have been developing it since 2002 and is based on the Linux 2.6 kernal, uses the KDE window manager and runs Firefox 2. There’s some media players and games included, and it’s interface is desgined to look a lot like Windows XP according to reports. One snag though. They developed it for x86 computers. So it’ll run fine on your Dell, Gateway or Mac, but those little netbooks, have a different CPU, so it won’t really run.

Red Star Linux Distro Tux Logo
The Linux Mascot, Tux in his North Korean Outfit. Tux was created by Larry Ewing in 1996.

If there is a version for the ARM CPU, it hasn’t shown up yet, but knowing the internet, it will at some point. There is also instructions for installing it on ARM based CPUs but it’s pretty intricate and could cause the net book you put it on to brick. So I would steer clear of that one. But if you’re looking for a challenge, it’s suggested you get a cheap net book you won’t miss if it does brick.

If you want to try it out for yourself, which I will be doing, you can download it off the Bit Torrent trackers. And relax, Linux is open source, so that means it’s not copyrighted like a movie or a CD. So you are allowed to download it. If you do install it, let me know. I would love to hear your thoughts. And as of right now, my Mac is happily downloading the ISO for it and I plan to install it using VMWare Fusion. I’ll post some screen grabs and thoughts later. Watch the Q103 Facebook page as well as this story for more updates. This is going to be fun.

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