North Korea Linux (Red Star OS)

Update: North Korea Linux 3.0 is out and I have a screenshot tour of the new release over on Check it out if you want to see what the latest version of Red Star OS looks like.

There was an announcement a while back that North Korea had come out with its own version of Linux (called Red Star OS). I dropped by the official North Korean site, and found their contact information. I sent a polite email asking for a download link for their distro, but I never heard back from anybody. This was rather rude on their part, or perhaps they just don’t have people who can read English answering their email. Anyway, I wasn’t able to get a download link…until today.

Somebody on Reddit posted a link to a Russian forum. I popped over there, registered and was able to download a copy of North Korea’s version of Linux, called Red Star OS.

If you aren’t familiar with North Korea, be sure to watch the Vice Guide to North Korea. It’s entertaining and also quite creepy at times.

I’ve embedded all three parts below; each part is about 20 minutes. It’s well worth watching if you want to see what a visit to North Korea is like.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

If you want more information about North Korea, see these books:

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters

Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West

Before I get into the review, here are a few of things to bear in mind. North Korea Linux comes only in Korean, there is no English version of it.

Second, the fact that I reviewed this distro should not be interpreted as any kind of endorsement of the North Korean government.

Third, I have renamed it for this review to “North Korea Linux” since it’s much clearer as to what the heck this distro is and where it comes from. Many people might not know recognize the name Red Star OS.

Fourth, I have removed the software page of the review. I started trying to figure out what applications had been included but, after a while, I decided it was more of a headache than it was worth. Suffice to say that the selection isn’t all that great, from what I could tell. However, there was a separate disc included with my install that was labeled applications. I did not bother installing it since it would have meant more time spent trying to wade through Korean application menus.

Also, according to a report, North Korea Linux is geared toward monitoring and controlling the web behavior of the North Korean people. So bear that in mind as you read this review.

Tux, in full communist regalia. Oh my! Creepy!

What’s New In This Release
Since this is the first time I’ve looked at Red Star Linux, there’s nothing to list here in terms of what’s new from previous releases. Instead, I’ll simply post the list of features from the Russian forum since that sums it all up. This list is translated from the Russian language, so it’s a bit off from regular English.

Year of Release: 2009
Version: 2.0
Developer: North Korea
Architecture: x86
Tabletka: Not required
Language: ONLY Korean
Description: A unique assembly of Linux from North Korea (DPRK). Was made on the orders of the Government to establish a free system in the Korean language.
At the present time is in the process of improvement. We spread my version is outdated, but so far that is all we have.

The second disc before soft for him (rpm). This is typical of the program under sneakers, fully translated into Korean. His made from scratch is almost there. That’s why he and Linux.

– Service software for the client version of Red Star
– Office suite “we” – ala OpenOffice
– A program for recording CD / DVD
– Email client “Dove”
– Korean chess
– A program for faxing
– Anti-Virus “Woodpecker”
– Notebook “My friend”
– One office suite OpenOffice ala
– Graphic Editor
– Firewall “Pyongyang Fortress
– Engineering Calculator
– Emulator of the Windows environment

Red Star OS boot menu.
Hardware Requirements & Installation

Hardware Requirements
Here’s what you’ll need to run North Korean Linux:

Pentium III 800 Mhz, 256 Mb RAM and 3 gig hard drive

The install menus are all in Korean, obviously. That didn’t give me any trouble until I hit the screen where I typed in my user name and password (that screen has the graphic of a key on it, not a person). Anyway, apparently my user name and/or password wasn’t long enough.

It took me a few minutes to figure this out since the popup menu was in Korean. Eventually I picked a longer name and password and the install finished without a problem. It took about 15 minutes to get it installed.

The screenshots below walk you through the install process, from beginning to end.

Booting & Login
After finishing the install and rebooting, the bootsplash screen loaded. Since I can’t read Korean, I don’t know what it said. After reviewing so many different distros, I just hit the Enter key and went right to the login screen.

The login screen was a bit odd since the default user was root, even though I seemed to have created a separate user during the install. Oh well, go figure. Maybe somebody needs to talk to the North Koreans about the naughtiness of using the root ID to run the system.

The Desktop

The desktop contains three icons. The computer icon opens the Konqueror file browser, the second icon seems to open a page of documentation in HTML, and there is a trash can. Application menus, system settings, etc. can all be accessed by clicking the big read star on the panel.

I was somewhat puzzled by the lack of official propaganda on the desktop. I expected to see pics of the North Korean leaders and that sort of thing. But, instead, there’s simply a generic KDE blue wallpaper instead. Hmm. Odd.

If you’ve used KDE 3.5 before, you’ll know what to expect from the North Korea Linux desktop.

The North Korea Linux desktop.

Sound and Multimedia

YouTube & Flash
I give the North Koreans credit, flash was installed. I’ve run into so many distros where it wasn’t, at least the communists had the good sense to include it. My Lady GaGa video played just fine. Maybe some of the North Korean distro developers are Lady GaGa fans? Hey, you never know.

Problems & Headaches
The biggest problem I had with North Korea Linux is the lack of an English language option. It’s obviously very difficult to write a review when you can’t read the application menus, etc.

Beyond that, this distro actually performed fairly well. I didn’t run into any overt crashes or other problems.

Flash was installed by default, Lady GaGa’s video worked well.
The application menus on the North Korea Linux desktop.

Where To Get Help
Please take a moment to register for the DLR forum (registration takes less than a minute and you can login with your Facebook account if you want); everybody is welcome. You are welcome to post a message in the Linux Help section and we’ll do our best to point you in the right direction. The forum contains discussions about Linux, but also many other topics. Please stop by and say hello when you have a chance.

Drop by the forum to get help, talk about Linux or just hang out.

Beyond that, your best bet for help with this distro is the blog of the guy who wrote the original review, and who apparently can read Korean. His blog is in Russian though, so you’ll need to translate it.

Final Thoughts & Who Should Use It
Obviously, this is not a distro that most people should use. It’s a curiosity created by an oppressive government, and it’s a travesty that the open nature of Linux was used in this rather perverse manner. It’s a good example of how even the best things in life can be taken and distorted.

I don’t recommend it to anyone, beyond simply being a curiosity. Distrohoppers might have a bit of fun installing it to play with, but it will also creep them out. It certainly creeped me out while writing this review. So perhaps it’s best if nobody else installs it.

One thing puzzles me though; the North Koreans are usually heavy on the propaganda stuff (see the Vice Guide to North Korea videos at the beginning of the review). And yet, they appear to have blown a major propaganda opportunity. They could have released this distro around the world in different languages, with lots of propaganda built into it for each language. Instead, they released it only in Korean. Odd.

I also wonder why North Korea bothered to even create this distro. They could have had a much better version of Linux had they simply based it on Ubuntu, and perhaps copied what distros like Linux Mint offer. Instead they went this route, and really ended up with nothing particularly special.

All of that said, I hope that someday the North Korean people are able to really learn about Linux. It would be wonderful if they were truly exposed to the ideas of openness, free software, and adaptability that Linux is all about.

What’s your take on this distro? Tell me in the comments below. Visit the DLR forum for more discussions. Visit for opinion columns.

Summary Table:

Product: North Korea Linux (Red Star OS)
Web Site: Torrent Link (This link takes you to the Russian forum where I downloaded the torrent file for this distro, you have to register to download it). Go here for the official North Korea web site.
Price: Free
Pros: There really aren’t any in this distro. Once you get beyond the novelty, there’s nothing particularly interesting or exceptional about it.
Cons: Available only in the Korean language; created to monitor and control the web behavior of the North Korean people.
Suitable For: Those who can read the Korean language, and distrohoppers who just want to play around with it.
Summary: North Korea Linux (Red Star OS) is an oddity, to say the least. Linux is geared toward being open and adaptable, this distro is a bit of a mockery of that concept. This distro should be considered as a novelty and nothing more.
Rating: 2/5

36 thoughts on “North Korea Linux (Red Star OS)

  1. It was interesting reading about a North Korean linux. The menu looked very XP like. I did however like the red star for menu button.
    Think you could get your hand on the chinese military OS Kylin aswell? I would love to see what became of it.

  2. “It’s a curiosity created by an oppressive government, and it’s a travesty that the open nature of Linux was used in this rather perverse manner.”

    Uh, excuse me? Then what is the point of open source software if only certain people are allowed to use it or develop it for their own needs? I mean, I can see that comment making sense relative to NK’s use of MS products, but come on, the “open” part of “open source” advertises itself able to be used by all, not just by those “more equal than others”.

    I love linux and the shockingly-productive systems I can tailor with it, but come on, there is way many self-sanctimonious users that define “freetard” too well.

  3. Oh Good Lord the linux world is filled with liberal idiots, or I should say it is filled with armchair political pundits safe behind computers.

    There is no possible way to defend NK’s behavior as a government in any humanitarian sense. It’s one thing to fault the US for conducting its wars and worldwide clandestine operations (IE, projecting and protecting its hegemony). It’s also another thing to say NK remains independent of US/Western hegemony (it doesn’t, but that’s a whole other complicated story).

    The big difference? At least the US is operating in protecting its own interests and benefiting itself as a nation rather than the mere government.

    If it’s such a pain to live within this “capitalist hellhole”, feel free to move to NK. Take your liberal friends with you. Give up your citizenship while you’re at it.

  4. This distro is fascinating. I kinda like it since it has the windows look alike desktop and seems easy enough to use. I am trying to get the distro version however doing cat /etc/issue shows some wacky korean writing and uname -a doesnt give much.

    I really would like to get ssh installed on this thing then I can use it as a main OS, the only feature I need is ssh so can anyone tell me the closest distro so I can attempt an rpm install?


    DongPyo Sa

  5. 'Defenders of DPRK Juche? In the free world? While doing humanitarian missions near the China/North Korea border in the early 90s, we PERSONALLY came across North Korean farmers who had been beaten for their food by underfed DPRK soldiers.

    You all need to cease the xenophobic rubbish and look at the ACTIONS which show, to me, that an imprisoned nation is not a beautiful nation.'

  6. Andrew wrote:

    It’s not odd that it’s only available in Korean. They don’t want to spread their communist agenda because of their unique “Juche”-philosophy.

    The North Koreans believe they’re not only [obviously] ideologically superior but *racially* superior to all others!

    After the Eastern Europeans, Russians and even the Chinese succumbed to capitalism they see themselves as the only one’s strong enough [racially] to continue! It’s sick but true.

    They wish to be *fully* self-reliant and having their own OS fits nicely with their philosophy.

    They believe they are "racially superior"? So that's why they don't wanna push their propaganda? :dizzy: Come on, give me a break… Since when the "red" ideology is about race? Last time I checked it was about internationalism, and all worldwide ideologies that talk about race came from the west. Not that you would notice, with your western-exclusionism cold war mind and your CNN-is-always-right attitude. You obviously never tried to look the other side of the coin. If you said they are paranoid of western intervention and that they fear internet you'd be absolutely right. If you said they impose harsh censorship on 'online' contents (none really) you'd be right again. And saying that this distro is made unattractive and so uniform for a uniform man is the point of the matter. For a reason.

  7. Your lashing out against the DPRK was unjustified. Also, there are quotes from Kim Jong Il in Korean when the system boots up, and if you read the readme file. Sure the DPRK is behind, but having any form of personal computer is far past what the media calls 50 years behind America in technology. They have a 3G cell phone service in Pyongyang. Also, they are with us on having Blu Ray disc players and the like.

  8. LOL at the Western chauvinism in this post and the comments. I mean, what do you expect from an article that from the get-go links to an awful documentary by some douchebag sounding real intelligent by calling their country "insane" and North Koreans 'crazy'.

    Yeah.. that place is so insane. Only an insane place would guarantee their citizens health care, education, a job, housing, food, child care, and adequate maternity leave BY LAW. After living my entire life in the US, we have NONE of those things guaranteed to us. Just food for thought. Anyways, to the critiques…

    The Author of this article writes: "All of that said, I hope that someday the North Korean people are able to really learn about Linux. It would be wonderful if they were truly exposed to the ideas of openness, free software, and adaptability that Linux is all about."

    Oh please. They know about it and use it frequently. This false sympathy for an imaginary reality is really ridiculous and shows that the author knows nothing of the situation in the DPRK.

    "the North Koreans are usually heavy on the propaganda stuff"

    So is just about everywhere, you just don't see it.

    "Instead, they released it only in Korean."

    Uh, gee… maybe because it's intention was to be used for Korean speakers?

    User 'Person' writes: "only the party elite would possibly have access to a computer, so there would be no need for any heavy-handed indoctrination."

    That's absolutely not true. Computer labs are frequent in libraries across the country. For example:… and

    Wow. Look at those Party Elites! Oh wait, they are teenage boys and girls.

    User GreenLantern writes: "Is this the government you want to defend? Seriously? OMFG."

    So, by your logic, you support propaganda perpetrated by powers that want to make the DPRK exactly like South Korea. By that I mean, they want to open up sweatshops, only pay starvation wages, and open up North Korea to foreign investors who will rape every bit of culture and every bit of achievement that the DPRK has. Yeah, sounds like a great idea.

  9. Ariszlo wrote:

    You can turn it to English by manually editing some config files:

    In /etc/sysconfig/i18n, change this line:


    to this:


    Then in /usr/share/config/kdeglobals, find this section and change Language from ko_KP to en_US:




    That is excellent information! Thank you for sharing it with us.

  10. You can turn it to English by manually editing some config files:

    In /etc/sysconfig/i18n, change this line:


    to this:


    Then in /usr/share/config/kdeglobals, find this section and change Language from ko_KP to en_US:




  11. @ commenter:

    American have been in three places imposing their ideology in the last 15-20 years. Iraq -ruled by evil genocidal ruling maniac- Afghanistan -ruled by Racist bigoted Organisation who organise rape and stonings as punishment regularly- and Kosovo -the most horrific crimes were commited since world war two and EU was too neutered by bureaucracy to act.- The first two truly needed 'liberation',though I do not defend America doing them for selfish reasons and badly executing them. And Kosovo I applaud.

    We will have different opinions here and America have done terrible things but DO NOT make a generalised statement about incredibly complex things. North Korea good/bad is not complex, the worlds only Necrocary. Not governed by any outside Law OR observation by media. Everything is controlled by goverment where possible and nothing is free where possible. Miss anything? Rhetorical question but please denounce America is fine. Defending N.Korea even on some Global relativist morality? Not cool.

  12. @ Conor Murphy:

    Really there's no way to compare USA with N. Korea. The latter doesn't send troops around the world to terrorize (also called "free' for dumb N. Americans) and impose its ideology, or "dumbology" maybe.

  13. Its hard to believe that anybody can look at what the government of North Korea has done to their people and then complain that this article is "political"! Would it be "political" to denounce the actions of Adolf Hitler? Murder, torture, and mass starvation are terrible no matter who is responsible.

    Hardcore lefties often will turn a blind eye to the awful abuses of basic human rights by Stalinist regimes, but will happily denounce fascist right wing governments. Please take a minute to think about it…coercive governments are a huge problem the world over, regardless of what economic or political ideology they subscribe to (and to some extent that even includes the US government for much of its history, particularly the last 10 years).

    North Korea just happens to be the absolute worst example in the world today of statism gone completely awry resulting in an incredibly backward regime still clinging to this Marxist crap that has been a sore on the face of the world since it began.

    Voluntary human interaction and the right to pursue your own interests in life are things that no government has the right to interfere with. This is what makes Linux so great; people getting together on their own accord to make something that can benefit us all, without any government interference. Microsoft has to hide behind very anti free market copyright law to make their money and bestow upon us crappy software :)

    So in conclusion, anything the reviewer wrote that reflected badly on North Korea was completely deserved. Lil' Kim and company are absolutely nuts. Even though I'm very anti war/anti interventionist, if for some reason the US does end up having it out with them, I really hope he gets what he has coming to him in the form of a bunker buster.

  14. dragonmouth wrote:

    N. Korea Linux is not the only Red linux out there. There are 4 or 5 distros coming out of China with some regularity. One of the is Red Flag.

    @dragonmouth: Thanks for the reminder. I was trying to remember the name of another long standing Linux distribution with the name "Red" in it. It could be that Red Flag Linux – if it is available, could be a good distribution to review. Again, chances are that it may not be "right" for most of us, but if we have any Asian readership, there is the possibility that it could be a good choice for them. I'd be interested in at least finding out a bit more about it, how about you?

    I'm unlikely to use it myself, but Mister Lynch seems to go after the likes of Hannah Montana Linux, Ubuntu Muslim Edition, Ubuntu Satanic Edition, Red Star OS, so maybe he could be convinced to see if there are any good Asian varieties of Linux that are popular across the shores, and if we have any Asian readership, perhaps some would be interested.

    I've not seen some of my good Asian friends in quite some time, but one of the best jobs I ever had was working in the Internationalization Group of the Digital UNIX organization. I was good friends with two Korean gentlemen and a Polish gentleman, and had an overseas friendship with a Serbian who lived in the South of France, plus I developed a few Chinese, Japanese, and Indian friends as well. I love different cultures and enjoy friendships with people all over the world.

    I can't say that I'd use the same software that they use, but I am interested in reading about it and often it brings me happy memories of those I have worked with over the years.

    Whaddaya say, Jim? Can you do a nice review of another Asian based distribution, perhaps one that either offers and English localization, too, or at least one we can read more about? TurboLinux, once upon a time was a leader, but that was a long time ago. But what about this Red Flag Linux? Is it still out there? What about a few others? What are the leading Asian based Linux distributions today? Who favors them and who likes to use them? All of these things would interest me, even though I won't be running them myself, and who knows, perhaps we could interest some friends from around the globe to visit us and tell us about which Linux variations they like to use that come from their region of the world. A nice cultural exchange would be wonderful – at least to me.

  15. N. Korea Linux is not the only Red linux out there. There are 4 or 5 distros coming out of China with some regularity. One of the is Red Flag.

  16. Beelzebud wrote:

    North Korea Linux is best Linux!

    You may well feel that way, and you are entitled to have that opinion. It simply prompts me to ask, "What makes you feel that way?" What is it about North Korea Linux that leads to to exclaim that it is the "best Linux!"?

    I have a number of "best Linux" distributions to suit my needs that depend on what I am doing. I like sidux as an every day cutting edge system based on Debian Sid technology, I like antiX as a lean, fast, and flexible system based on Debian Testing technology, and I like SimplyMEPIS as a simple, rock stable, easy to use system based on a stable Debian core.

    I like and use many other derivatives of various types. The Debian varieties are my favorites, but I use Slackware and Red Hat variants too and enjoy them. I've recently enjoyed using Absolute Linux (Slackware derivative), Peppermint OS One (Ubuntu derivative), openSUSE 11.3 (long standing system with original roots in Slackware packaging, but well over a decade using Red Hat packaging, very much has its own unique design, very strong in interoperability with Windows, perhaps one of the best in this role), Mandriva Cooker, another system using Red Hat packaging that has been a popular system for well over a decade; I like the Cooker to check out the latest software.

    OK, that's just a hint of some of the things that I like. Now do tell us why Red Star OS, a.k.a. North Korea Linux (as termed by Jim) is "best Linux" for you?

  17. One thing that drew me to read this is, have they developed any programs of their own?

    Then I could see myself curious. Otherwise it's just a distribution, but abit out of age (KDE 3.5 and kernel?).

    Oh well, it's a sad situation in N Korea. Could have been a good contributor to the world, if the regime was different.

  18. Way to defuse the politically charged atmosphere of the comments by openly attacking yet another country that isn't even mentioned by name in the article… stay classy.@ Arup:

  19. Well Jim, you certainly found another interesting example of software. I cannot say that I will ever be interested in running it, but it was interesting to read about it, and it is also interesting to read the very charged comments from people across many ends of the spectrum.

    One thing that we can value, and I hope that we can retain it for a very long time, is the freedom of speech. We have people lambasting even the mention of this topic, criticizing you, then others criticizing North Korea and anything associated with it, then we have some others taking shots at a variety of things.

    I can't say that I agree or disagree with any of them, but what I greatly value here is the freedom of speech and the mere fact that someone like you can evaluate software like this, and people like us can come in here and talk about it, even rant about it. Is that really possible everywhere? I am not sure whether it is or it isn't, but my guess is that open opinions are not welcome everywhere.

    Congratulations to you, Jim, for once again daring to venture into something that's not popular to think about, but apparently quite a few people will comment on it. I hope that your blog and your forums continue to attract interest. I certainly intend to continue following and promoting them.

    As for Red Star OS or whatever we choose to call it, I'll pass, but I did definitely appreciate reading this piece! :-)

  20. I don't see this review as political at all. But those of you who are defending North Korea should read this story:

    North Korean defectors, victims speak at human rights conference

    "Young-Cheol Kim and Mi-ran Kim both may have completely different backgrounds but they share the same stories. At the International Conference on North Korean Human Rights, the North Korean defectors discussed their horrifying experiences and escape.

    Malnutrition, torture, severe punishment, executions, unsanitary conditions, prostitution, rape, violence, human trafficking, slavery and oppression are the key terms to describe the present situation in North Korea where violations of human rights continue to escalate and human suffering soars."

    Is this the government you want to defend? Seriously? OMFG.

  21. Pingback: North Korea Linux (Red Star OS) | Desktop Linux Reviews :: NetBoys – One Step Ahed
  22. Ok the comments are very strange. Politics? One person described this a Mcartheresque. Really its not strange to say a countries bad when they lock up the manager of the soccer team that didn't get past the group stages of the world cup. They oppress their citizens, this had nothing to do with bashing the economic system communism but the systemic human rights abuses.

    @Arup if you are really comparing the US of A to north korea that really is the most laughable example of populist nonsense you find on the web, and thats coming from a generally anti american socialist.

    The Linux community has some of the worst flamers I've ever seen.

    Anyhoo interesting review and I do realise the limitations of the language barrier but I really would have liked to know about application installation is customasibilty locked down and what are the 'snooping' abilities of the OS?

  23. And this is exactly how the US media used to portray China and USSR before.

    The first paragraph to THIS article was so creepy I decided to skip it.

    It read like a 50's McCarthesque piece.

  24. It doesn't surprise me that there isn't any propaganda – only the party elite would possibly have access to a computer, so there would be no need for any heavy-handed indoctrination.

    Moreover, Kim Jong Il and the others in charge of North Korea aren't foolish enough to think that releasing their own Linux distro would ever endear them to the outside world, nor, I imagine, do they care. Their government seems to be concerned with keeping power, not making friends or influencing world opinion.

  25. Ok Desktop is KDE Classic. So what is the kernel ? How to install aplications ? Where is the package manager ? This Red Star distro base on what distro ? Does is another Ubuntu ? How about repositories ? Any backdor or rootkit built-in ?

  26. This was more of an excuse to make political statements on N.Korea rather than Linux distro assessment. Kidnapping, attacking or invading other countries is just not N.Korean specialty or its exclusive domain, there is a country called US of A, that does it quite well and in far more larger scale, except they call it hearts and mind and liberation. Next time do a Linux review, don't bring in politics and turn it into a mud slinging fest, we got enough of that on other forums.

  27. It's not odd that it's only available in Korean. They don't want to spread their communist agenda because of their unique "Juche"-philosophy.

    The North Koreans believe they're not only [obviously] ideologically superior but *racially* superior to all others!

    After the Eastern Europeans, Russians and even the Chinese succumbed to capitalism they see themselves as the only one's strong enough [racially] to continue! It's sick but true.

    They wish to be *fully* self-reliant and having their own OS fits nicely with their philosophy.

Leave a Reply