Just how popular is enterprise open source software? Popular enough, it seems, to power web servers in locations as unlikely as North Korea. That's where Red Hat (RHT) Enterprise Linux (RHEL), and derivatives of it, are running the few public web servers that exist in the country. Who knew?
In a bit of news that passed mostly under the radar, Internet research firm Netcraft reported last April—at a low point in relations between North Korea and Western nations and their allies—that RHEL version 5 serves the website of the Korean Central News Agency, the country's official media outlet. CentOS, another open source platform that very closely resembles RHEL (actually, it essentially is RHEL, distributed by a third party using different binaries based on the same source code), powers the website of the newspaper Rodung Sinmun.
As Netcraft noted, the RHEL 5 installation is probably not licensed, since the United States government's Export Administration Regulations prohibit North Carolina-based Red Hat, along with all American companies, from doing business in North Korea. The RHEL system would lack official security updates as a result.
Still, supported or not, the penetration of an open source Linux OS in a place as far removed from the global grid as North Korea is a testament to the universality of open source software. It is very difficult to imagine a proprietary alternative existing under similar circumstances.
And the difference between RHEL and an OS such as Microsoft (MSFT) Windows, by the way, has nothing to do with corporate development or American origins in this case. RHEL is just as American and commercialized as Windows.
Linux also plays a key role on the desktop front in North Korea, where the government sponsors a homegrown Linux distribution called Red Star OS—complete with its own "Pyongyang Fortress" firewall software, whose name, at least, makes iptables sound pretty lame. But alas, the Year of the Linux Desktop remains elusive even in North Korea, where pirated versions of Windows appear to be more popular among people with access to desktop computers.
Is North Korea's endorsement of Linux an argument for the pro-open source camp? Not really. But it is an interesting reflection of the ability of open source software to adapt to all corners of the channel, even those that are barely connected to the Internet the rest of us use.