No, just kidding. I’m being unfair to Microsoft. Or am I damning the Koreans with faint praise? Anyway, perhaps fearing that the Blue Screen of Death is really a CIA plot to destroy the Hermit Kingdom, North Korea has unveiled its own computer operating system, known as “Red Star”.
A Russian blogger studying in Pyongyang bought a copy and posted screenshots on his blog (which unfortunately is in Russian). Red Star is based on Linux but looks awfully like Windows. The Web browser is Firefox, and there is an e-mail feature called Pigeon, which presumably is a favorable name in Korea (I can’t see Americans buying Microsft Pigeon, though the Apple Pigeon would be a bestseller).
A Korean folk song greets Red Star users on start-up, while the calendar informs users that this year is the Year 99 (the calendar start with the birthday of the late North Korean ruler Kim Il-Sung as Year Zero). And because North Koreans have plentiful free time when they’re not starving to death, Red Star comes with games (the Russian screenshot looks kind of like “Go”, I think).
What’s interesting about Red Star is that it will have more of an impact on North Korea’s image than on the country itself, where almost no one has a computer, and unauthorized Web users receive a stern reprimand followed by a bullet in the head. Pyongyang is suspected of creating a cyberwarfare capability, which may already have been used to attack South Korea. Releasing a homegrown operating system may be a way for Korean ruler Kim Jong-il to demonstrate that it has the IT knowhow to conduct cyberwar.
Laugh if you will at a nation whose citizens seem to do nothing other than perform robotically choreographed paeans of love to the Supreme Leader. But North Korea has mastered the art of intimidating its adversaries with disruptive technology. Whether its primitive missiles with primitive nuclear or chemical warheads, or a state-sponsored cyberoffensive that can use free hacker tools available on the Web to cause havoc, North Korea has amassed an unsophisticated but effective arsenal that has compelled the world to back off from pressuring a rogue regime – while still shipping food to it.
But pity the poor North Korean programmers of Red Star when the inevitable bugs appear. In their line of work, a Blue Screen of Death will mean just that.