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South Korea switching their 3.3M PCs to Linux (fosslinux.com)
447 points by bitxbitxbitcoin on Feb 16, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 201 comments



South korean developer here. I am quite aware of government plans for software since I've done my service as a software developer for army.

There is a company called TmaxSoft which advertises itfself as only builders to the 'Korean OS'. Fueled by relatively high patriotism shared by average koreans, the government had been subsidizing this firm for more than 10 years. Despite the effort to liberate the nation from a private US firm this wasn't successful so far: first they tried to build their own kernel which froze at the public demo. After realizing it was dumb to write kernel from scratch, they began focusing on tuning the visual interface. The result was criticism that is was just a pathetic clone of MintOS(linux distro).

Due to bureaucratic debt over 10+ years, I think those government officials are desparately trying to meet an end to this mad project. The money and time they've spent well deserves a spot in governmental future plan in converting all american OS: Windows into Homemade korean government friendly OS.


More on TMaxSoft.

This software firm builds many 'hard' softwares like OS, DBMS or even MapReduce data processing cluster(like hadoop and spark). One might naturally ask 'why build a wheel while there are plenty already built by open source developers?' and economically aware person might also ask 'how are selling their products while competing against ubuntu, postgresql, spark?'

Cloning something from scratch and learning advanced technology in its process is a familiar thing in Korea. Enforcing home grown products to average customers, subsidizing one specific firm to take all domestic market share is how Samsung and Hyundai made its way to top global firms. So I guess the mental background for replacing OS by home made OS is similar to that which successfully grew Samsung. They are willing to pay off a lot of money so that a Korean firm outgrows Google, Facebook or Apple. An average developer knows it is a stupid plan to replicate linux or mysql from scratch. But government officials' heart still remain in the golden age when the very strategy they are executing with was valid for Samsung or Hyundai.

The way this firm hires its employees is tighly coupled with government. In our country all men are obliged to military service. However there are couple of options:

1. B.S holders: no exemption. 2 years in a random role. 2. M.S holders: you get to work for private firm for 3 years. Called 'special research agents'. Mostly work for engineering related firms. 3. Ph.D holders: you are exempted as soon as you become a Ph.D holder.

All these exemption rules according to the level of scholastic degree is to foster R&D capability of our nation. And here comes a perky question: 'What happens to Ph.D dropouts?' As some might have guessed: 'You go to TmaxSoft, get hefty salary, get a girl, get married.'

I wouldn't say much about it if there weren't a fact that really bugs me. They do hoard M.S holders from best colleges, however the graduate students they hire aren't limited to CS majors. I've seen multiple chemistry majors or industrial engineering majors who dropped out of Ph.D course doing software engineering there. I have no idea how they could 'train' a non CS major to write code for hard core stuffs like OS or DBMS. And they tell the government officials that they have the best pool of engineers from prestigious colleges, which would ease the government to making decision to subsidize this firm.


Er... I personally feel that this comment is too harsh to TmaxSoft and the government officials.

Yeah, TmaxSoft builds and sells compatible DBMS/parallel computing solutions to the government — but I feel that it’s entirely understandable to use domestic software for things like that. The killer features there wasn’t that it was domestic — it was that it’s cheaper that the alternatives and it’s compatible with the big ones, ensuring no vendor lock-in.

It’s definitely not a plan to make TmaxSoft some global company like Samsung or Hyundai; its not the 70s where the country has no big companies for the global market. The government has no incentives to do that, when Samsung’s software is used over the world. It’s just the preference of domestic software, and that TmaxSoft delivered actually usable software (not great, but is usable) to the government.


You know how crucial software gains reliability through large user community. I don't want to fall into some random bs while using their 'usable' DB. condolence to programmers involved to government projects which will enforce them to use 'usable' piece of framework from domestic firm.


If at some point a nationally important company wishes to pivot or at least threaten to pivot on some important tech, their statements will carry less weight unless they've already been developing the tech with some visible gusto. I think there is some strategic value to holding something like Bing, assuming its costs are reasonable.


Huh? You want there was only one product and nothing else? That's quite dystopian.


This is not something unique to Korea most governments do this. Subsidise or promote a homegrown product so that the homegrown product becomes competitive in the future. NASA supporting private rocket firms is an example of this.


In the United States it's called Google.


> Enforcing home grown products to average customers, subsidizing one specific firm to take all domestic market share is how Samsung and Hyundai made its way to top global firms.

I can see how this would ensure domestic success, but how does that translate to 'top global firm' status unless the products / features & pricing are significantly superior?


It basically gives domestic firms breathing room to survive and grow, versus being suffocated by the currently superior products or foreign firms. The hope then is that in the future, with a stronger financial footing, these firms' products will improve to be truly competitive with those of the global competitors.

At least in hardware/manufacturing, both South Korea and China have done this with great success thus far.


> It basically gives domestic firms breathing room to survive and grow, versus being suffocated by the currently superior products or foreign firms.

Yes, I get that. It's basic tariff protectionism. Many countries have done, and continue to, do this.

Here in Australia we've done it for decades, but with no global success.

> The hope then is that in the future ...

I hope that isn't the official strategy. ; |

The stronger financial footing (also achievable via vanilla domestic success sans tarrifs) doesn't necessarily guarantee global success, especially if other nation states are adopting similar fiscal & trade policies ... which it's fair to say they are.


> Here in Australia we've done it for decades, but with no global success.

Examples? We have some of the most open markets in the world. We’re one of the only countries the US has a trade surplus with...


> Examples? We have some of the most open markets in the world. We’re one of the only countries the US has a trade surplus with...

I guess the obvious example would be the car industry - mostly cars were just assembled in Australia in the most recent past, but previously there were some designed and built. Tariffs were applied to protect that industry (nominally the jobs associated with same) but despite the Australian car assembly sector basically being zero now, the tariffs still exist. It's almost like it's just a revenue generation scheme.

There's a long history of tariffs and duties within Australia [1] but none of those (to my knowledge) resulted in a thriving multi-national corporation (I'll exclude mining companies as they're primary industries, reliant on the lottery of resource availability rather than any particular commercial skill).

Perhaps Murdoch's News Limited, which undoubtedly obtained government support during its nascent era, but I'm not sure how comparable it is to the Samsung and Hyundais of the world (referring back to GP's claims).

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_tariffs_in_Australi...


Australia has it pretty hard be competitive exporting industrial goods since the supply chain is mostly overseas and the domestic market is small, which means most things will gehave to be exported again. All this results in high shipping costs and latency in addition to being a high wage country.


I guess the parent poster meant that despite doing the same in Australia, this didn't produce global companies like Samsung, Hyundai, LG, etc.


and I think that's the question, which companies did Australia do that with? I can't ocme up with any.


Back in the 70s and 80s there were many tariffs that were directly related to the manufacturing in Australia.

However, our tariffs were more about protecting jobs than protecting and developing industries. Australia has always been a "taker" when it comes to investment and we are shite at developing our own industries that aren't purely primary (ie extractive like mining or agricultural).

We have some companies today that are global but have nothing to do with tariffs. Atlassian in software, some mining related engineering and services companies.

There are others like CSL which was spun out of government, Brambles/CHEP that again, was spun out of government (CHEP stood for Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool in WW2).

But our governments are terrible at promoting secondary industry or supporting them. Our R&D grants are complicated and are focused on compliance, not on results.

Australia is the "lucky country" but the full quote is:

"Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people's ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise."


It sounds like Australia is a victim of the resource curse. Resources bring in the money regardless of how competitive you are. There are no incentives to compete and improve because Australia can afford complacency and incompetence.


Australia has a smaller population, very high wages and a technology-phobic government with policies that have filtered all investment into the property market for decades - rather than letting investment go into high-risk-high-reward projects. Not much to report on the megacorp front.

There are major Australian companies out there; the Atlassians, BHPs and CSL's of the world. They aren't Samsung by any stretch.


Australia has second rate government and second rate management. We're good at digging up dirt and shipping it, or ploughing dirt and shipping it in the form of food.

Our management and government are incredibly risk-averse and we follow trends and popular management theories instead of creating them.


No insight into Australian management, but having lots of valuable dirt to dig up does make it much harder to get going in other lines of business.

I think this is called "dutch disease" by economists: the high wages paid by the dirt-digging (early on) mean that you can't simultaneously be competitive in metal-bashing, which makes it hard to develop other industries.


Yeah, I think it only started to work for the USA globally after WW2 ?


Europe, all in market-liberal spirits, has not done this. And it shows.


A key idea here is that, to keep this support, the firms were also obliged to export. Even small numbers, at a loss, at first, but they had to have paying customers in America. Firms that couldn't do this were allowed to go bankrupt / get swallowed up.

At least in Korea. In less successful countries, domestic top dogs were simply protected, and were quite happy to keep making cars from the '50s.

An excellent book on this story is "How Asia Works" by Joe Studwell. (On which I'd be interested to hear any opinions from actual Koreans.)


That 'force overseas sales' thing sounds like a notable differentiator, though I'm not well versed enough to know if there's (m)any contra examples for this practice.

And thank you - I've added How Asia Works to my reading stack.


It's hard to get to the point where your products are significantly superior if you have no revenue while you experiment with improvements to your product until it can compete on its own. Funding doesn't guarantee success, but without it you may have no chance at all.


>2. M.S holders: you get to work for private firm for 3 years. Called 'special research agents'. Mostly work for engineering related firms.

So the government essentially uses people to subsidize businesses?


by providing an alternative option for highly educated male engineers, yes.


This was interesting to read. I had no idea that Korea was trying to move to their own platform, nor did I know it’s been in the works for a decade. Crazy!


> I have no idea how they could 'train' a non CS major to write code for hard core stuffs like OS or DBMS.

There is probably someone better fit to describe this [hah!] but schools aren't really designed to teach something specific. It is more about creating hard working drones. Doing anything meaningful in [say] chemistry is harder than brainfuck.


This is so interesting and new to me. Do you have links where I can read further about all this?


Well not even Samsung can do proper SW engineering (it's an insanely failed side of Samsung and yeah it's that bad) and they can pay top dollar.

Koreans just cant really do b2c products that well that are not hardware.


Korea doesn’t value software engineers like Silicon Valley does. Over there, it is considered menial work and the pay is VERY substandard. This has been true as recently as 2018, but it is (too slowly) starting to change. The only FAANG with an engineering office in Seoul is Google.


Same with Japan. Read some of patio11's posts on that.


My terrible experiences with the remote-control app (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.panasonic....) for my otherwise-fine mirrorless cameras now makes total sense. Even though the app has received constant updates for years, it's still extremely unreliable, and looks like hasn't had a visual update in ten years.


Is there any reason why global corporations aren't opening engineering offices there? Seems obvious knowledge-salary arbitrage.


Language barriers, timezones (their night is our day; it is flipped). Most skilled Korean software engineers end up in the Valley. Remote development only goes so far.


I don't see it any differently than companies with an office in India. While English is not a national language in RoK, Koreans are still taught English early. In my limited experience, being married to a Korean and having worked with Indians, Korean professionals speak English about as well as Indian professionals.

The timezone is similar: India is 10 hours forward from America/New_York, RoK is 12 hours forward. Flights to RoK (12-14 hours) are actually significantly shorter than flights to India (20 hours).

Indians are probably paid less than Koreans, but I don't know. And I cannot speak to the technical proficiencies of either.

I'd definitely like to open an office in RoK some time.

If anyone on here has done so or is interested, send me an email.


Are you interested in moving to RoK? Either way expect salaries at around 50-60k so not that cheap. And also the talent pool is rather small. The English proficiency is almost non existent.


At the right time, for the right company, definitely.


Hello, nice to meet another Korean (still wake at 4AM) on HN! :-)

> The result was criticism that is was just a pathetic clone of MintOS(linux distro).

I’m pretty sure you’re mixing up Harmonica with Tmax — Harmonica is based on Linux Mint (and is a pretty well operated open source project) while Tmax uses the Linux kernel, some BSD components and a custom desktop environment that features a rip-off interface of Windows.


Found a page with some information + a screenshot of Harmonica: https://linuxreviews.org/HamoniKR

There wasn't any english stuff for Tmax distro that I could find...

idk why they don't just adopt Debian + Gnome for their desktop stuff with some Korean development work on top of that. It's a great looking UI/UX and would be perfect especially if most of the software is via the browser/SaaS anyway. Or some occasional wine translations where needed.

But I guess that's just how governments work and their constant obsessions with the sunk cost fallacy.

Edit: Harmonica seems to be doing the right thing already, from the review:

> However, it is, at it's core, just Linux Minux with two special PPAs for Koreans on top.

This isn't something to shame them for, this is how it should be done.


> dk why they don't just adopt Debian + Gnome for their desktop stuff with some Korean development work on top of that. It's a great looking UI/UX and would be perfect especially if most of the software is via the browser/SaaS anyway. Or some occasional wine translations where needed.

Well, (as you mentioned in the edit) it doesn’t create something totally new — AFAIK it uses the cinnamon DE. Also, you mentioned about being ‘perfect’... but you will be surprised in the level of CJK support on any open source software. Even the big ones don’t support CJK well, unless the software uses the OS toolkit & operating system gives you for free — and Linux doesn’t. Software like Firefox’s CJK input is frequently broken in macOS (they don’t use Cocoa), and on most Linux distributions everything is just terrible (including Ubuntu). That’s the reason for using a local distribution.

> This isn't something to shame them for, this is how it should be done.

It could be great if we could just use Linux Mint or Ubuntu and call it a day; Linux people, please stop considering input managers and other UTF-8 stuff as bloat... or you will never get meaningful adoption to ordinary users in the CJK.


> Even the big ones don’t support CJK well, unless the software uses the OS toolkit & operating system gives you for free — and Linux doesn’t.

What specific CJK support is lacking on Linux? I only have experience with CJ on Ubuntu, where I didn't really find anything lacking. Noto fonts give sufficient Unicode coverage, everything speaks UTF-8 and fcitx is an adequate input method engine, even if its text prediction isn't Google-level smart.


I thought Hangul has a small alphabet. Does it still need an input editor?


thanks for pointing this out :=)


Ah, live demos are hard :P

There's no shame in trying, and no shame in pivoting after a cost/benefit analysis, and sticking with Windows.

In contrast, North Korea maintains its own Linux distro (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Star_OS#Version_4.0) and has for ten to twenty years, probably because they can't trust any proprietary software and they're not tied to Windows-happy U.S. DoD, and I would rather live in South Korea and use Windows than live in North Korea and use Linux.


Not OP, but:

> There's no shame in trying, and no shame in pivoting after a cost/benefit analysis, and sticking with Windows.

It wouldn’t been a shame if TmaxOS was advertised as a BSD distribution with Windows integration through Wine from the start — it advertises itself as a ‘pure korean OS’ without any mentions of BSD (which I’m pretty sure is a license violation) our Wine.

It later moved onto the Linux kernel and a more standard Linux environment (with some BSD components left over), and a custom DE, and is currently advertising itself as a Linux distribution. I’ve heard it is actually in a fairly useable state... but the OS already got a really bad rap.


Out of curiosity: why is it dumb to build a kernel from scratch? There are several such projects on Github with decent progress. Many of them are featured on HN time to time. Google also thinks that writing a new kernel is a great idea. I share their vision in this particular matter. We need a new kernel that was designed and implemented taking into consideration the last dew decades worth os research, especially into security and reliability.


It's pretty dumb for a consumer OS intended to run on commodity PCs, because the hard part is device drivers for all the hardware out there, and existing kernel projects are way ahead of you on that one. It might make sense in an environment where you have much more control over your hardware platform.


> first they tried to build their own kernel which froze at the public demo

Do you have a video of this? I found mention of it, and many videos of TmaxDay and the like; but without more context or speaking Korean, I'm finding it hard to locate.


I actually heard this from ex-tmax engineer.

One of the engineer was debugging the scheduler a day before demo day, poking here and there, inserting sleep(10); to random places. He merged his debug commit without deleting sleeps so the OS froze on demo.

what this implies: they don't have tests, no code review. And they're still developing OS.


... and the entire project was sorta clean room copy of FOSS projects, like BSD and WINE.

... and their new TMax OS is just BSD w/ WINE.

Oh god...


Here’s the footage: https://youtu.be/OylmhpqptkY


I evaluated China's Red Flag Linux back in the day, around 2010.

They took a common linux distro, added Chinese fonts, and made a nice graphical login screen. I was impressed at how smooth the final result was actually.

If you're familiar with the final linux distros based on KDE (pre-Gnome 3), that's what it looked like.

So if you're a government IT staffer, study the history of Red Flag Linux.


Deepin a modern Chinese distro used in some gov i heard is also surprisingly good looking. Then there's WPS which now tends to ask me to login and whatnot a bit too much but i remember being delighted with it because back in the day it looked pretty and handled the garbage MS office stuff really well whereas libre and open office faltered here and there enough to be annoying.


>Despite the effort to liberate the nation from a private US firm this wasn't successful so far: first they tried to build their own kernel which froze at the public demo.

So? Linux, Windows, Mac OS, have all frozen during all kinds of public demos.

>After realizing it was dumb to write kernel from scratch

Is it? A nation state, especially one the size of Korea, should have no problem finding resources for writing a kernel from scratch - to a level suitable for running POSIX software and a modern UNIX-like userland.


But, like, why?


To ensure foreign intelligence agencies have reduced visibility? To prop up local industry? Support customisations? Lots of valid reasons to roll your own OS, especially for National organisations.

The question I have is isn’t it obvious?


Hmm, maybe afraid that otherwise someone might have slipped a backdoor in, like with Dual_EC_DRBG ?


Inaccurate headline. They're doing a pilot project to see if they like it. This is where a lot of these "X Government Switches To Linux!" projects fall apart. Wake me up when they actually do it.


Relevant well-known case: when Munich switched to Linux and then switched back to Windows 10

https://www.engadget.com/2017/11/26/linux-pioneer-munich-swi...


Which is, of course, the canonical example of why all governments should do it.

The project didn't fail, it was on pace to succeed, which made Microsoft swoop in and basically bribe them to switch back.

The lesson being, switch to Linux. Either you'll switch and save money, or Microsoft will bribe you not to and you'll save money.


The linked headline from the OPs post about the switch:

> Linux in Munich: 'No compelling technical reason to return to Windows,' says city's IT chief

https://www.techrepublic.com/article/linux-in-munich-no-comp...

The reason was probably a shift in IT management who wanted to keep things "simple" with some vague thing about keeping one platform since they had kept previous windows machines around which were apparently "absolutely needed". It takes heart in the management to keep Linux around, which isn't always a reliable thing. Even when there was no "technical" need to use the more expensive Windows option.

But this sounds 100% like a Microsoft sales/marketing job, which they are amazing at. They've really perfected selling to big firms, which you could see with the growth of Azure. Which I witnessed when they unleashed their sales machine on startups to get them to use it, and it was quite interesting to see in action.


It was absolutely a political decision. Microsoft even moved their offices there from slightly outside of Munich to inside of Munich.


First time I hear this. So they didn't move offices from the far away Berlin to Munich, they just moved them from a small nearby suburb into the downtown of Munich? How was that such an important decision?


> How was that such an important decision?

Taxes. Politicians still think Microsoft pays taxes. Though 60M [1] per year in taxes while paying much more for their software is technically a retarded thing to do deal-wise.

[1] https://www.northdata.de/Microsoft+Deutschland+GmbH,+München...


That only makes sense if the total bribe outweighs the investment in building the credible alternative.


The bribe here is not to people but to the government. If the tax effect for the city outweighs licensing costs it makes sense for the city to switch. The city where their office used to be is the one suffering under the decision.


The bribe ends up in your pocket, the credible alternative only serves the general public.


> That only makes sense if the total bribe outweighs the investment in building the credible alternative.

It only makes sense to take the bribe in that case. It always makes sense to prepare for the switch, because if they won't bribe you enough to stop then you can always actually do the switch, which is still better than the status quo.


And in the end it's not Windows that governments and companies need, it's Office. Windows is fairly easy to replace for a lot of jobs nowadays. But working without MS Office is extremely difficult. It's basically impossible and certainly not worth it ensuring that all spreadsheets used will still work with alternatives, it also makes communication with other governments or companies much harder. That's where Microsoft makes the money and has its monopoly.


On the OS not being critical, I think that might be the case in 10 years, but large companies still have loads of internal desktop applications that haven’t moved to the web yet.

But agree with your point on Office, there are many large organisations which are literally running on Excel, and which IT budget would have to grow 10 times if they were to replace all these excel based processes.

And I must say that I haven’t seen any good alternative to Excel for a non programmer to set up a custom set of calculations, or deal with data. I am trying to get more people to learn SQL in my company, which shouldn’t be too difficult. But you are not going to write a company valuation model in SQL. And I had poor results at getting non programmers to pick up coding (I offered 1 week external in class courses, lots of people volunteered but 80% did not really do anything with it).


I wonder what a landscape would look like where the OS isn't critical but everyone's still on Excel.

Wine suddenly gets really really good, maybe?


It's difficult to work without ms office because the government uses it. That's why ms vigorously opposes all those "X Government Switches To Linux!" efforts, they know where the money come from.


Google Sheets has a History of your edits and if that's utilized well can make it well superior to MS.


I think using gsuite software would defeat the point of switching desktop operating system to avoid being dependant on a single company.


It's a quite common way to negotiate lower licenses fees.


Bingo. I've seen this strategy time and time again.

It's part of the reason Microsoft is playing to their strength with Office 365, it's almost impossible to replace at this point.


That's what I thought. Flagged.


It seems like the government is pushing VDI to replace dedicated internet PCs, which are used alongside air-gapped government network PCs. That means, main office PCs will still be running Windows.

Actually, Korean military had an experimental VDI program years ago, but the program failed mainly because of the price, most of which had to be spent on Windows license. IIRC, after creating a small prototype, the program is eventually scrapped.

So, no, this is not a negotiating move. Also, I believe this will definitely happen, because Windows 10 is stupidly expensive.

The official announcement from Korean government (Korean): https://www.mois.go.kr/frt/bbs/type010/commonSelectBoardArti...


As a foreigner who's spending a lot of time in South Korea and had to deal/saw people deal with the inability to do anything online without the use of a Windows client, I applaud this. Every time we need to interact with the government or a bank, we need to search around for a Windows laptop or try from a VM (doesn't always work). This makes it very hard for anyone to learn a non-Windows OS.

Next step: remove the silly Korean phone number requirement from your online services.


> Next step: remove the silly Korean phone number requirement from your online services.

Never going to happen as long as the Korean nanny state needs to keep tabs on its citizens.


I had no issues with running Windows 7 in a VM for everything.


The point seems to be about finding a computer at all. Suppose you want to do some banking and all you have is your Android phone? According to what I'm reading from other comments, you may just need to find a Windows PC rather than handle things with your own device.


Nearly all of the banks in Korea have Android apps.


South Korean here, explanation for some context:

South Korea has a deep legacy of MS-DOS/Windows, and it’s reliance of Microsoft’s OS is very high. This mostly is due to two reasons: the high use of the unique word processor(Hangul Word Processor) and the legacy ActiveX plugins used for cryptography when banking.

In the 90s, multiple internet service providers used ActiveX technology (for people who doesn’t know, it’s basically binary plugin technology to provide unlimited access to the local environment) to provide services. They were used to provide VOD services, etc... and when online shopping & banking started in the mid 90s the government mandated use of a 128bit crypto algorithm. At that time, the dominant browser IE only had 40 bit crypto due to US’s export restrictions — so the 128 bit algorithm they decided to use was a independently developed algorithm called SEED, which was then implemented in ActiveX by the banks and shopping malls. This became a legacy, and for a long time even after the restriction was removed, people were forced to use ActiveX plugins until the smartphones came and the banks were forced to rewrite the system. There are still a lot of banks mandating the use of Windows for desktops — that’s one reason why the Windows was so popular.

Windows 10 AFAIK (I’ve never used it, so I’m not really sure) is much more strict to the binary plugins, and Internet Explorer is almost going to die — so a lot of people were staying on Windows 7, including most of the government. By the deprecation of Windows 7, the government thought that this was a good time to remove much of the legacy that enforces Windows, and is considering Linux for one of its options.

One of the reasons why I have some hope on this project is because the government’s use of Windows is basically for two things — the ActiveX plugins in the web (which are mostly disappeared thanks to smartphones) and the Hangul Word Processor, which was exclusively only on Windows until about 2008, when a Linux version was released for a short period of time (and was removed due to the lack of interest). If the government decides to transition to Linux, Hancom(HWP’s developer) can prioritize the Linux port — which, in 2008 was already fully featured and has almost zero compatibility problems! (People using Linux still use the 2008 version by dockerizing the whole environment.)

Some context on the operating systems that were mentioned:

The Harmonica OS is a Linux Mint-based distribution that is localized thoroughly and has a lot of baseline programs (like the input methods) installed, and is pretty great for daily use.

The Tmax OS is... basically a scam OS that... well uses a big mix of Linux, BSD, and Wine’s code, a homemade custom DE that is a poor ripoff of the windows interface and tries to integrate them (unsuccessfully)... and advertise as a ‘pure Korean OS’ to the officials.


The activX dependence is one hell of a thing. I once applied for grad school in Seoul and it was a harrowing experience just sending them documents.


Since you’re here, can you explain what’s special about the Hancom/Hangul office software?

The Wikipedia articles all just say things like “specialized support” or “special needs”. I would have assumed that the key requirement is Hangul input, which presumably other word processing and spreadsheet programs could do just fine.


> I would have assumed that the key requirement is Hangul input, which presumably other word processing and spreadsheet programs could do just fine.

Hangul support was a key feature in the 80s where everything was MS-DOS; and it wasn’t prevalent then where a lot of hangul-supporting word processors were on the market.

The killer feature of the Hangul Word Processor to most users is that it allows substantial control on the layout of the document... in a way that westerners don’t really care. (That’s a direct quote from a foreigner I know, maybe an over-generalization.) So the Korean Government and a lot of corporations were very committed on transitioning documents that were written by hand, to computers, and they also wanted to have this exact layout and form that was used before. Most forms are based out of tables — and I can’t really explain this in text, but it gives you the power to layout the text the exact way you want, while in Word, you feel like you’re wrestling with the layout engine. (Kinda like... if Word is old CSS where you had to use all kinds of float hacks to make your fragile layout, HWP gives you flexbox and grids... etc....) Some says that HWP is more like a DTD program like InDesign (I’ve never used it so I can’t really comment) rather than a usual word processor that other countries use... but everybody is just super used to having all that control, so nobody can really transition back to Word.


> while in Word, you feel like you’re wrestling with the layout engine.

That's an understatement, the UX for that in Word is pretty awful without some deep familiarity. Even using tables to format stuff was difficult and choppy.

Although I've never had to use Word professionally and fortunately most of my education just required the standard format + some spacing requirements, which were easy.


Interesting! I’m curious why people never moved to say Quark XPress then, but presumably it was “Hancom makes us this super custom thing, and it’s way cheaper than any desktop publishing software”.

Is there a lot of diversity in the types of documents people make? (Like, why isn’t this a case of having lots of templates?)


> I’m curious why people never moved to say Quark XPress then, but presumably it was “Hancom makes us this super custom thing, and it’s way cheaper than any desktop publishing software”.

First of all, QuarkXPress had shitty, really shitty language support. You might be surprised when you know that most pro apps have really, really poor CJK support — apps like Photoshop currently has really hacky input support bolted on later, and frequently a problem. Even big, user facing apps like Microsoft Excel still has lots of problems with input. So back in the days where the word processor market was more diverse, QuarkXPress was not an option.

Then also, there is the popularity problem where people have not used or even heard about DTD software like this, and it’s not really a friendly interface for users to create and modify documents.

This is a side story but... publishers that needed DTD software used QuarkXPress back in the day. The company backing the software had frequent conflicts with the local publishers with license pricing, and the publishers decided to protest by not upgrading to the latest version — and AFAIK lots of small publishers that didn’t have the manpower to convert all of it’s files to InDesign still buys used PowerMacs to run the version(I’m not sure but something like 3.3 — released in 1996!) that they use.

> Is there a lot of diversity in the types of documents people make? (Like, why isn’t this a case of having lots of templates?)

> presumably it was “Hancom makes us this super custom thing, and it’s way cheaper than any desktop publishing software”.

Yeah, pretty much true too.

Having lots of templates in HWP is one of the reason why HWP isn’t disappearing; there is vendor lock-in due to custom file formats, and people don’t feel any reason to move to another one.


partial story here -- lots of work was done on CJKV input systems, in each decade, but in many Asian markets (Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam for SURE) piracy was rampant, which does not feed an R&D cycle.

Unicode was standardized, then the utf8 format after that, which *nix took full advantage of, but other legacy software (see paragraph 1) did not evolve in some cases.


Piracy is rampant to all popular software; I’m not sure how the conclusion that Asian markets have a higher pircy rate than the western market was reached. I’m pretty sure that MS Office is pirated in the US at least as much as Korea.


I get the feeling that a viable program produced locally was in itself a user feature.

While other global programs could be shoehorned into their use case, it still means poor customizability for specific Korean issues. In particular being optimized for the most common Korean use case vs western designers use cases.

There’s a lot of these local brew word processor in the CJK world, and it’s often more than just language support: there will be hooks for common legal formatting, better handling of common transformations, sometimes a dedicated IME working better for long form writing. It also means more culturally useful templates from first party source, which is surprisingly nice to have IMO.

It’s also interesting that local companies/gov. can pay for additional features or adaptations, have the talent move to other entities in the local economy, etc. which is a way higher hurdle for an Adobe or Microsoft.


> The killer feature of the Hangul Word Processor to most users is that it allows substantial control on the layout of the document... in a way that westerners don’t really care

There's a similar tendency in Japan to use MS Excel for a lot of documents that westerners would use MS Word for for the same reason - detailed, rigid, layout.


Tmax is basically a refugee camp for Ph.D dropouts. I won't criticize much if they were doing their job right. But they are not. They hire engineers from non CS majors from top engineering colleges to impress government officials to invest tax money to their firm.


> the government thought that this was a good time to remove much of the legacy that enforces Windows, and is considering Linux for one of its options.

Microsoft will just offer Windows for free and Office at a steep discount and nothing will change. Mark my words :-)


> Microsoft will just offer Windows for free

Which... doesn’t have a really incentive now in because all of the legacy components that required Windows in the first place are all broken on Win10...

> Office at a steep discount

... and we don’t really rely on Microsoft Office that much (compared to other countries). The dominant word processor is from a local company (side note: Word is just awful... seriously. Maybe it’s due to no competition., and the local company has viable solutions that provide very high compatibility (seriously, l just can’t believe how they did it, it’s super compatible) with Word, Excel & Powerpoint. (AFAIK they export them to other countries governments as well.)


But how will Martha in Accounting (or whatever the Korean equivalent of Martha in Accounting is) learn how to deal with the UX terribleness that is most of Linux? Windows she's been using all of her life, it might not be much better but she's used to it.


> But how will <someone> learn how to deal with the UX terribleness that is most of Linux?

They learnt to deal with the terrible UX in Windows, no reason they can’t on Linux. :-)

> it might not be much better but she's used to it.

It’s her work, she better get used to it too keep working; That’s a pretty compelling reason to get used to Linux, right?


> They learnt to deal with the terrible UX in Windows, no reason they can’t on Linux. :-)

Linux's terrible UIs change pretty much every month as Linux GUI devs get bored and decide to reinvent everything for no reason. Microsoft has only recently started doing that and it's still at a much slower pace.


If you pick some random community version, then yes.

But you know, there are versions with commercial support out there. And governments could have the budget to actually maintain their own version. (they do btw.)


> They learnt to deal with the terrible UX in Windows, no reason they can’t on Linux. :-)

They could, but they won’t.

They want Outlook and Word and Excel, and they’ll exhibit a mule-like stubbornness to budge.


> They want Outlook and Word and Excel

I’ve mentioned that we don’t use Word, (BTW, seriously, is there anyone who uses Outlook anymore?) and the dominant word processor used in South Korea had a port to Linux that is fully featured and has a very high compatibility since 2008.


> (BTW, seriously, is there anyone who uses Outlook anymore?)

Outlook is still huge amongst professions that have to deal with people a lot. The calendaring is better than online solutions (by a lot) and the plugins, I am told, for stuff like Salesforce are awesome.


>They want Outlook and Word and Excel

They are redesigned every version though, there's nothing fixed to want from them.


>UX terribleness

Linux has an upper hand in terms of UX since Windows Vista, and the gap widened greatly since then, go read what people think about metro.


No idea where you are getting any of this from...

A little hard to complain when we can take dlls that are 10-12 years old shove them into something like server 2019/SQL 2019, and not think about compatibility.

Same goes for client apps, was your app shit 10 years ago? It's not going to change 10 years later. Did it work in word 10 years ago, it will most likely work 10 years later with zero changes.


ActiveX.

See other comments here


Are you telling me no one in South Korea uses Photoshop, InDesign, professional video editing software or generally any kind of pro software that doesn't run on Linux?


> no one in South Korea uses Photoshop, InDesign, professional video editing software or generally any kind of pro software that doesn't run on Linux

Of course not! :-) I don’t run Linux myself for these reasons... but the government agency PCs has no requirement to run these. The officials shouldn’t run useless programs on work, right? :-)


You mean that no one in the South Korean government does any kind of professional photo editing (or any other kind of high level professional desktop work)? It could make sense if they outsource all of that. But I doubt that out of millions of people, 100% are just low level clerks typing in forms receive from the public.


There must be people doing that, but it's not the majority. Which means that the majority of the people can just go along with Linux without Photoshop. If there are people who need them, they can use a Windows PC.

Also, as a side point, AFAIK all of the operating systems that are mentioned in the article has native support for executing Windows applications using Wine - as there are still programs that only support Windows. Unlike other Linux distributions where Wine is a second level citizen, the distributions have preinstalled Wine wrappers for the dominant IM in South Korea so if the government wants it, wrapping up a version of Photoshop that works on Wine won't be that hard.


Those people that require adobe shit are probably very rare and can still just use windows, mac a VM, Wine or an alternative like krita, inkscape or what have you. And there's probably more work like that for local governments and smaller agencies but then those either already make do with some "marta from accounting made a poster in word" type of design or outsource it since it doesn't make sense to keep someone around permanently.


Is this actually likely to happen, or a negotiating manoeuvre with Microsoft?


It is not about negotiating a better price for Windows. A lot of government organizations switched last year or, in the case of the South Korean army, long ago.

https://linuxreviews.org/30%2B_South_Korean_Governmental_Org...


Last time they trusted Microsoft, they got their entire country stuck with ActiveX; that said, possibly a bit of column A, a bit of column B.


It's not exactly SK trusted Microsoft. Rather, some idiots had this brilliant idea that if you create a piece of code that hooks directly into Windows kernel and messes around with device drivers, your users will be secure, because how would those evil hackers run keyloggers when your security plugin already hijacked keyboard events.

So far so good, but then how do you disseminate this wonderful piece of security technology? By creating an ActiveX plugin and make every user download and install it before they can use your website. And since those pesky new versions of Windows will keep warning "This program may harm your computer, continue?", we just have to tell users to click "OK".

But what if users are trained to always click OK and accidentally stumbles upon a fishing website? Stupid dummy users, they shouldn't have done that! If they accidentally went to a fishing website, downloaded a bad security plugin, and uploaded all their banking credentials, it's their fault!

IIRC Microsoft practically begged South Korea to please stop using ActiveX, it was never a great technology and it outlived its usefulness a long time ago, could we please move on?

Edit: As far as I remember, real fun started when you needed to access two banking websites. Now their security plugins start to fight each other!


Well... going back further, SK was forced to do something when the US banned all crypto export above 48bit or something stupid. SK wanted 128bit and the only way they could do that was via ActiveX. A few weeks later and every bank and eStore was using the Korean rolled crypto instead of the weaksauce crypto that the browser / OS was rolled out with.

You can trace all of this directly back to the combination of Microsoft and the US Government. Microsoft should have pushed back on the government's stupid demand or educated them on why it was stupid, and the government shouldn't have made that demand in the first place.


That was more South Korea’s own bad crypto policy’s fault than Microsoft’s fault, though.


> That was more South Korea’s own bad crypto policy’s fault

South Korean here, I wouldn’t say it was the government’s fault to enforce better security/crypto tech on the web when banking, right? To be strict, everything really started because of the US’s IMO useless export restrictions. Then it became a legacy that couldn’t be third of for ~20 yrs. I don’t think the policy was great, but it was reasonable at the time.


I think the point is that it wasn't better security. And nowadays it likely has no improvement or actually decreases security.


It was because the U.S. government placed export restrictions on Rijndael. I mean, the alternative might have been for them to just use Rijndael anyway, and that would probably have been better in the long run, but heh. Now that that stuff is out of the way, I honestly can't see why they don't (or didn't until recently?) allow Rijndael or ChaCha20.


Wait what? How could they even put export restrictions on it?


Further reading about activex mentioned above:

* https://www.zdnet.com/article/south-koreans-use-internet-exp...

* https://www.forbes.com/sites/elaineramirez/2016/11/30/south-...

Oh, and some required apps simply don't have mac equivalents. Fun times.

It's funny because S.Korea is otherwise quite advanced. It's just their banking/online shopping is a huge hassle compared to using foreign cards.

In order to use my Korean card online, I had to go to the bank, set a password there (valid for 1 year) and have a randomly generated numbers-lookup card printed. I forget the exact term for it. So when I used my bank's debit card online, I guess it would go "type in the number next to 20 on your numbers card". Totally ridiculous. I just never used it because I realized sites like gmarket allowed foreigners to use their cards anyways.


Actually, what's the net rate of money lost and people who've lost money as a result of that?


Their friends to the North have been using Linux for many years know, although pirated copies of Windows are still prevalent as well.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Star_OS


Their relatives to the North... (fixed it for you!)


It will be interesting to see how it will work.

If they have been Windows for so long and all the way up to Windows 7, they must have a lot of software and more interestingly hardware that Win7 manages to get working.

All sorts of bits and bobs hardware will potentially make trouble.

I also see in the article: "The South Korean government also plans to implement a Desktop as a Service (DaaS) that uses a virtual PC environment that runs on a cloud by the second half of 2020. The South Korean ministry expects a 72% savings in cost with the DaaS move. Security standards and DaaS models are currently in development, and pilot tests are scheduled to start in October of this year."

This does make a lot of sense in a two-stage program, switch out the desktop to become thin-clients that connects to the DaaS. Then they can allow end user to connect to a Daas of Windows7, Windows10, Linux, DOS, I mean whatever.


But when I was working daily via a DaaS platform, it's not a great experience for software development. Input latency is high enough to be noticed, the virtual desktop can not put under load (e.g. using a IDE for C++ other than Source Insight). My company had to switch back to desktop PC for most developers.


Yep, my experience exactly too.


As someone who very much uses and likes FOSS, I'm not sure I'd actually recommend people use Linux in end-user, day to day work. I can definitely see BSD or Linux in core infrastructure, but end users don't really care too much about which OS to use, they care about driver compatibility, UX usability, and app availability, among other things like security and what-not. Windows has apps, it has vendor-built drivers, it has auto-update and nice GUIs and all that. Linux doesn't.

I use Ubuntu 19.10 eoan for my daily driver replacing Windows 10 Professional for Workstations, and I can tell you that the drivers are _definitely_ worse, updates are manual, apps are updated last of the major OSes, and if I wasn't a SWE but I needed to use a computer for my job it wouldn't be as pleasant as Windows.


A lot of your specific claims are dubious at best but more importantly this isn't someone installing Linux on their own random laptop. Doing Linux deployments across a set of machines whose hardware and installed applications you control is a completely different situation.


> Windows has apps, it has vendor-built drivers, it has auto-update and nice GUIs and all that. Linux doesn't.

Linux has tons of auto update solutions. E.g. on Debian you can configure the unattended-upgrades package to do it for you. There are plenty of nice GUIs for most tasks if you use the right distro. Ultimately, it's up to the admins of the deployments to take care of updates, not up to the end users.

As for the vendor maintained drivers that Windows has, it's often the same in Linux actually. Often, the maintainers of the mainline drivers are employees of the vendors. As it should be.


> Linux has tons of auto update solutions. E.g. on Debian you can configure the unattended-upgrades package to do it for you. There are plenty of nice GUIs for most tasks if you use the right distro.

These suggestions are still problems for many Linux distros these days and for general users there should be one sane default solution for 'auto-updating', just like Windows and macOS. No user should have to configure packagename-1.0 to do automatic upgrades for the user, it should be in the default install and configurable via the settings GUI with a simple checkbox. Finally, to further confuse the end-user to switch to a Linux distro is when they have to choose 'the right distro'. Windows and macOS come in one recognisable desktop form, Linux still suffers from an identity crisis on the desktop for end-users.

Unfortunately, it isn't possible for me to recommend a Linux distro to an end-user only for them to end up being frustrated with the switching process and eventually going back to Windows or macOS. Ubuntu and ChromeOS may suffice for some users but the other distros will confuse them further.


> Windows and macOS come in one recognisable desktop form

Like Win10 home, pro, server, or enterprise?


The difference for the end user is zero.


Interestingly enough, my tech illiterate Dad has been running OpenSuse for years now and has the opposite experience of what you describe. It has drivers for his hardware that Windows no longer can use, he likes KDE's GUI significantly better than Windows, apps for just about anything that are a few trivial clicks away from being installed, updates come quick and automatic, and it runs much better than the Windows install he hasn't booted in months.


To your updates point: as I understand Microsoft's strategy they are doing rolling release now, which is how a desktop OS should do in the age when hardware is expected to still be fast enough for everything in 15 years. Ubuntu doesn't do it, their LTS is just 5 years, neither does MacOS by the way. This is of course very annoying to deal with and disrupts and breaks user experience pretty significantly. But also is not a problem for government making their own distro, updates is like half of the reason to even make a distro.


You could use Manjaro instead- it has rolling releases, is based on Arch, and looks and feels nice to use.


Agreed, I'm also an SWE, pro FOSS and all but the Linux Desktop is just not there.

also these days my first suggestion for most users would be chromeOS or similar.


Lucky they aren't the world's biggest abuser of activeX...oh wait.


The office suite part is the most painful. I am now using Softmaker Freeoffice (free version of Softmaker Office). It is an excellent alternative to Libreoffice, except that it is not opensource.


Most Koreans use a custom word processor called Hancom Office.


Interesting development. I wonder if Excel/VBA are a big part of their work. If so, there could be large costs in converting, testing, and deploying the alternatives.


Did Germany try this unsuccessfully a few years back?


Munich successfully pivoted to Linux for over a decade, then Microsoft Germany moved their HQ to Munich no doubt greasing many wheels in the process and Munich switched back to Windows a year later IIRC.


Currently Cern is having a go at replacing all microsoft products, due to high cost.

https://home.cern/news/news/computing/migrating-open-source-...

The institute is big enough that it might be a source of inspiration or knowledge for local governments in Europe.


From my own small slice of experience, it seems likely related to a handful of issues:

End Users: Who are addicted to using Outlook being their job.

End Users: Who still need to inter-operate with others using MS products.

MS Access possibly being the 'best' CRUD interface. (I think it even comes with an expense database template? I think it might also connect to ODBC setups, which are their own nightmare but at least multi-user.)

Various literal corner cases that break workflows. Such as the RTF support LibreOffice lacking the ability to understand feature Y which other file formats can handle (E.G. repeat header row on new pages), or those same import/exports not looking exactly the same in other 'office' software.

==

As a suggestion, even though I'm not familiar with the LibreOffice XML formats offhand, it would be nice if we took a modern, big computer, look at digital typesetting, text area layouts and flow rules. With documents containing multiple types of data and multiple presentation modes (for one document), with a required 'generic' mode that matches traditional web pages, layouts specific to paper sizes / screen sizes, and layout support for anchoring / positioning within those layouts. There also wouldn't be a strong differentiation between 4th dimensional content (moving screens/pages), tables, charts/drawings, or any other type of elements. That might be 'better enough' that MS has to adopt it too.


Outlook is still the best MUA (Mail User Agent)


The average CERN user is way more tech savvy than random government workers.


The average CERN user already does not use Windows or any MS products. All research infra is Linux (Cern Linux, a CentOS derivative), and apart from a stray Macbook, I've never seen anyone use anything but Linux.

Windows was for a few desktops, administrative staff and optionally email (some Exchange or OWA stuff or sth).


So the whole Windows infrastructure from 2000 - 2005, including the use of Office to write documents in some is gone?

And everyone at HLT has ditched their Apple laptops?

I thought Scientific Linux was no longer a thing (I was a beta user back in the initial release).


Government workers in South Korea are actually some of the brightest in the country. The jobs are extremely competitive and you have to score very highly on a set of standardize tests to qualify.


Ah a test, that's defiantly going to get the "best" at passing tests whether this leads to good policy and implementation is arguable, the Active X debacle suggests not.

It is probably more to do with the cultural influence of the Imperial examination


It wasn't that successful, they were even still running Windows 2000 on some machines when they decided to switch "back" from Linux. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13643182

I wouldn't be surprised if the switch didn't help their problems at all, since if they didn't get rid of Windows 2000 when switching to Linux, they're likely still running some legacy applications on their homegrown LiMux systems and suffering from the resulting interoperability problems.


No mention of it in the English Wikipedia Munich article, but there's one about LiMux, their custom distro:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LiMux

German Wikipedia's München article does mention it:

(Deutsch) https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geschichte_M%C3%BCnchens

(English) https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=de&tl=en&u=https%3...

Edit: Sorry, actually my trail was

1) https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%BCnchen

2) https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%BCnchen#Geschichte

3) https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geschichte_M%C3%BCnchens


There's plenty of reporting to be found if you just search "munich linux".

From the end of [0]:

> At the time Munich began the move to LiMux in 2004, it was one of the largest organizations to reject Windows, and Microsoft took the city's leaving so seriously that its then CEO Steve Ballmer flew to Munich, but the mayor at the time, Christian Ude, stood firm.

> More recently, Microsoft last year moved its German company headquarters to Munich.

[0] https://www.techrepublic.com/article/linux-in-munich-no-comp...


Smelled like https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TRON_project#History

Remains to be seen what happens now, though only vauguely comparable situation, whith much of Linux in the hands of US-based corporations.


Seems like a good strategy. Switch to Linux. Gets Microsoft attention, and returns to the stack of software that you know and love via a bunch of free and cheap licenses while creating a bunch of local jobs and getting hefty kick backs.

With the exception of the hypothetical corruption, I don’t blame them.


Yes.


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