Sunday, January 20, 2008

Hana Linux and Korean Reunification

The recent announcement coming out of a conference in China that North and South Korea would work together on Linux software has already generated a spate of hyperbolic commentary on the web. Training centers for Linux professionals will be developed at Yenben and Dandung in China, and at Pyongyang, Kaesong and Hoichun in North Korea, according to reports. To place this announcement in some sort of perspective, it is helpful to remember the following:
  • Windows is still dominant in the South Korean market, despite some recent announcements. When the Ministry of Information and Communication announced in early 2006 that it would designate a "Linux City" and a "Linux University" only 1 percent of the nation's computers were running Linux (lower than the global median of 3 percent). Near the end of 2006 Kwangju was designated as an open-source city, in a project running from 2006-2010, which will bear watching.
  • North Korea, despite having few connections to the internet and virtually no modern mobile telecommunication networks, reportedly has made some progress in software development. The government in the North may well view joint software development, including Linux, as a non-controversial way to start cooperation with colleagues from the South.
  • Especially in the Korean context, announcement of a project and actual implementation can be two very different things.
  • Will the jointly developed Linux be solely for the use of Koreans with only the Korean market in view, or will the developers envisage Korea's role in the global information economy?

South Korea has unquestionably made progress in the development of Linux, developing its own version called Buyeo, for use in Seoul schools. Also, the project to make Kwangju an open source city is underway. These developments all merit attention, as do joint South-North efforts on Linux. More to come on this topic.

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