13 weird and wonderful niche Linux distros of 2018

The ‘hermit kingdom’ that is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is one of the most isolated countries in the world. The internet is strictly censored (indeed, most North Koreans have never even heard of it) and access to computers is patchy. 

Unwilling to rely solely on operating systems developed by the imperialist US, supreme leader Kim Jong-Il sanctioned the development of an official OS of North Korea named Red Star, which is based on Linux and uses North Korean terminology and spelling. 

Red Star fully lives up to the Orwellian reputation of the DPRK. It is closed source and has a feature which watermarks any media files copied to external drives with the hard drive’s serial number. This is most likely because North Korean dissidents often swap banned films using a ‘sneakernet’ of USB sticks. Red Star also has a supposed ‘virus scanner’ which can automatically delete censored files. The root user is disabled by default, meaning you don’t have full control over your system. 

For this reason, you should only run Red Star inside a virtual machine. See our guide on how to do this here

Development of Red Star has continued under the auspices of supreme commander Kim Jong Un. Version 3.0 was released back in 2014 and uses the KDE desktop environment, bearing a strong resemblance to macOS. It works quite well but is preconfigured to only use North Korea’s intranet by default, so can’t access the web at large, except for a few pages on the Mozilla website. 

As the OS is based on Linux, skilled users can tinker with the language and DNS settings to use it in English with internet access. There’s also a server-only version (4.0) used by the DPRK’s official airline Air Koryo which can connect directly to the internet, but it’s not available for general download.  

The default web browser Naenara (meaning ‘My Country’) is a modified version of Firefox 3.5. We searched for ‘democracy’ in the default search engine, but nothing came up.

As a final reminder: if you want to give this a whirl, don’t install the OS on actual hardware, but rather inside a virtual machine.

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