Even North Korea doesn't like Windows any more, as its official OS now rips off Apple

Even the communists know that the old way of doing things isn't cutting it any more.

North Korea has a state operating system for its computers, which makes sense in a country that lacks any kind of freedom of expression, and where the media is entirely a mouthpiece for the regime. It's called Red Star, and it's a fork of the popular Red Hat Linux distribution. It was developed in 2002 as a home-grown replacement for Windows, but it kept the look and feel of Microsoft's OS. Up until last week, the most recent version, 2.0, was known to mimic Windows 7.

Will Scott, a computer scientist from the University of Washington, went to teach computer science at Pyongyang's Kim-Il Sung University in 2013 (and did a really fascinating reddit AMA afterwards). While there, he took screenshots of version 3.0 of Red Star OS, which has been comprehensively re-skinned to look like Apple's OS X:

(There are loads more pictures on the ever-excellent North Korea Tech blog, so go visit them and give them some traffic.)

Windows, once nearly ubiquitous in every home and office, has fallen pretty hard since the double-hit of smartphones and tablets. In 2008, 90 percent of all computers ran Windows; in 2013, it was 32 percent. Perhaps a sign that incoming Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is doing a good job will be when pirates - including the North Korean regime - start switching back from Apple-alike software.

This kind of behaviour is pretty typical of what used to happen in the USSR, where Soviet engineers reverse-engineered western pocket radios and computers with mixed results. North Korea has had its own range of Android tablets for a couple of years, with an illegal, unapproved Korean-language adaptation of Angry Birds pre-loaded - reviews of the Samjiyon, the latest model, by western journalists have been surprisingly positive.

Microsoft can take some solace in the news that its Kinect cameras are proving perfect for monitoring the DMZ between North and South Koreas, preventing soldiers creeping across to the south. An engineer, Ko Jae-kwan, has rejigged the cameras as motion-detectors, reports the Wall Street Journal. The border between the two nations is the most heavily-militarised in the world.

Ian Steadman is a staff science and technology writer at the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @iansteadman.

Show Hide image

Stephen Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising space makes him almost as bad as Trump

The physicist's inistence on mankind's expansion risks making him a handmaiden of inequality.

“Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves,” Stephen Hawking has warned. And he’s not just talking about surviving the UK's recent run of record breaking heat. If humanity doesn’t start sending people to Mars soon, then in a few hundred years he says we can all expect to be kaput; there just isn’t enough space for us all.

The theoretical physicist gave his address to the glittering Starmus Festival of science and arts in Norway. According to the BBC, he argued that climate change and the depletion of natural resources help make space travel essential. With this in mind, he would like to see a mission to Mars by 2025 and a new lunar base within 30 years.

He even took a swipe at Donald Trump: “I am not denying the importance of fighting climate change and global warming, unlike Donald Trump, who may just have taken the most serious, and wrong, decision on climate change this world has seen.”

Yet there are striking similarities between Hawking's statement and the President's bombast. For one thing there was the context in which it was made - an address to a festival dripping with conspicuous consumption, where 18 carat gold OMEGA watches were dished out as prizes.

More importantly there's the inescapable reality that space colonisation is an inherently elitist affair: under Trump you may be able to pay your way out of earthly catastrophe, while for Elon Musk, brawn could be a deciding advantage, given he wants his early settlers on Mars to be able to dredge up buried ice.

Whichever way you divide it up, it is unlikely that everyone will be able to RightMove their way to a less crowded galaxy. Hell, most people can’t even make it to Starmus itself (€800  for a full price ticket), where the line-up of speakers is overwhelmingly white and male.

So while this obsession with space travel has a certain nobility, it also risks elevating earthly inequalities to an interplanetary scale.

And although Hawking is right to call out Trump on climate change, the concern that space travel diverts money from saving earth's ecosystems still stands. 

In a context where the American government is upping NASA’s budget for manned space flights at the same time as it cuts funds for critical work observing the changes on earth, it is imperative that the wider science community stands up against this worrying trend.

Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising the solar system risks playing into the hands of the those who share the President destructive views on the climate, at the expense of the planet underneath us.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496