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North Korea rips off Apple's Mac OS X in a revamp to its home-brewed operating system

'Red Star OS' has been updated from copying Windows to copying OS X
  • @jjvincent

North Korea is one of the world’s most oppressive and backward-looking regimes, but when it comes to computing it seems the so-called ‘hermit state’ is making a token effort to keep up with the times.

Screenshots have recently surfaced of the country’s national operating system, Red Star OS - revealing that the  a copy of Apple’s Mac OSX, when before it aped Microsoft’s Windows.

North Korea Tech, a blog that covers computing and technology in the country, posted images of Red Star OS 3.0, noting that the software is based on the open-source operating system Linux.

The South China Morning Post notes that the software is used only by North Korea's elite, and that it is installed in “some universities and state-run industries as a means of accessing Kwangmyong, the country’s domestic and heavily censored public intranet.”

An earlier version of Red Star was leaked online by a Russian student in 2010, with this latest update first reported on by Will Scott, an American computer scientist who was lecturing at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology in late 2013.

The previous version of Red Star looked more like Microsoft's Windows operating system.

Despite the extreme poverty suffered by a large number of its citizens, North Korea does have its share of modern technology. However, most of its gadgets are rebranded imports from neighbouring countries, such as its Samjiyon tablet (named after a famous 1939 battle against the Japanese).

North Korea’s answer to the iPad runs on the Android operating system and features a 7-inch screen, 1GB of RAM and a 4GB hard drive. Although some sleuthing by North Korea Tech revealed that the tablet was most likely built in China, the Samjiyon and its ilk are still of interest to collectors, with one unopened unit selling for $546 on eBay last November.

As for Red Star, although it’s unlikely that any explanation for the changing appearance will be given, it could be that the switch-over is due to a whim of Kim Jong-Un's.

Photographs released by official North Korean media have shown the grandson of Kim Jong-Un sat at a desk kitted out with a shiny iMac (see picture below right), suggesting that one way of solving the Mac vs PC debate for an entire country is to become a brutal, autocratic dictator.

Kim Il-Sung and his iMac.