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Free Software in Korea: Part Two -- The Linux Side (Conclusion)

Oct 10, 1999, 07:15 (12 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Randy Leganza)


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[ The opinions expressed by authors on Linux Today are their own. They speak only for themselves and not for Linux Today. ]

By Randy Leganza, Special Korea Correspondent for Linux Today

Korean Government Support for Linux
A most promising development for the free software movement in Korea is the government's Ministry of Information and Communication announcement in late July that it will "provide government support for the development and proliferation of Linux." The Korea Herald, among others, reported that the ministry "will establish a Linux consultative body composed of software experts from the government, academic and industry sectors to standardize Korean versions of Linux and develop a variety of programs based on the operating system."

At the forefront of the Korean government's support for Linux is the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI). According to Kim Hae-jin (family names are first in Korean), who is heading the ETRI Linux project, ETRI's plan is to "provide a highly scalable, highly available, single system server image cluster [technology]... adaptable from Internet [servers] to [the] mission critical enterprise."

A non-profit organization called the "Linux Council" has been established. Four committees within the Council have been designated:

  1. Standardization -- standardize Linux's Hangul terminology and documentation
  2. R & D -- promote research in and development of Linux software
  3. Supply and Support -- support Linux in end-user markets, schools and government offices
  4. Education and Training -- promote Linux education and training

Kim adds that they will also sponsor more Linux forums like a recent one held in July 1999, which was attended by Linux International's John "maddog" Hall.

A Long History of Free Software Use
Korea has been involved with the free software movement for over twelve years. An obscure reference on the GNU web site reveals that in April of 1987, Richard Stallman visited the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in Taejon.

More recently, in May of this year, Tim Ney of the Free Software Foundation visited Korea with a Massachusetts Software Delegation and "met with a number of young software start-up companies..." According to Tim, "many of the companies [he] saw were predominantly writing software for the Windows platform, yet responded quite positively when [he] spoke about free software and opportunities with GNU/Linux."

Free Software Projects
Ongoing free software projects in Korea include:

  • Hanterm 3.1 from the KAIST, a Korean language (Hangul) xterm
  • OpenHWP, reported to be an almost defunct Korean free word-processor
  • And a team of at least four package maintainers contribute to the Korean Debian Project. The Korean Debian project has members from both the academic and business communities. Park Chu-yeon, current leader of the project, is working on the Korean Debian Bible with other project members. They maintain nearly 50 Korean Debian packages.

Linux is not the only project associated with the free software movement in Korea. FreeBSD also has a following. Choi Jun-ho is the leader of both the Korea FreeBSD Users Group and the GNU Free Translation Project. Choi reports that he first used GNU/Linux in 1993, then moved to FreeBSD in 1995.

Korean Companies That Market Linux Products
Choi is developing a unique Linux distribution, qLinux, at his company, WebDataBank. According to Choi Jun-ho, qLinux will be bootable from a large ext2 file image on an existing Windows FAT partition via a loop-back device. He says qLinux will also be able to "utilize" the Windows Registry to configure X Windows, network cards, etc. WebDataBank is in the Linux Internet server hosting and groupware development business. They will soon release a Korean version of TurboLinux 4.0.

MIZI Research
Another Korean company, MIZI Research markets MiziOS, its own Linux version and HWPX-R4, a Linux/Unix Hangul word processor that is a close cousin to Hangul and Computers (H & C) Hangul Windows version (Hangul means the "Korean written language"). MIZI's head, Seo Young-jin, was the UNIX HWPX-R4 team leader at H & C before H & C decided to drop the UNIX version in 1997 and focus on their Windows version. Seo then licensed HWPX-R4's source code and started MIZI.

Microsoft's subsequent failed attempt to shut the H & C Hangul word processor out of the Korean market was a pivotal event in the rise of free software in Korea. See Free Software in Korea: Part One -- The Microsoft Connection.

HWPX-R4 is included on the MiziOS CDs, as either a demo version or an official bundle.

MIZI also supports the Free Software movement with:

  • ManIM, which enables Hangul fonts in Netscape on X
  • a Hangul font server
  • some document viewers that will soon fall under the GPL
  • four Korean TrueType fonts under the BSD license

MIZI's decision whether to publish under the GPL or a commercial license is level-of-effort based. According to Seo Young-jin, "Some software is attractive and fun and others [requires] endless maintenance. The latter [we license] commercial."

Under commercial licensing, MIZI is currently working on an architectural CAD application that will be available in Hangul and English. Seo said that he hoped to "shareware" the English version, explaining that part of the code was licensed from another company and MIZI needed to recover the cost.

Zion Systems
Zion Systems develops Accel, a Korean distribution based on Red Hat. In developing Accel, Zion Systems uses the latest kernel version and libraries, builds their packages optimized for Pentiums and is working on a Korean GUI installation package.

In partnership with Samsung, Zion Systems markets a line of high availability Alpha and Xeon SMP servers that can support clustering and further plans to market a sub $1,000 Linux PC in October. Currently Zion is working on GPLing their audio drivers and high availability management software.

Zion is also setting up an "after service" center for its product line.

3R Soft
3R Soft produces MailStudio, a Linux/Unix Web-based e-mail server. MailStudio's user interface runs inside the Web browser, like Netscape and Yahoo's mail servers. MailStudio is compatible with Sendmail, SMTP, POP, and qPopper. In their upcoming 3.0 version, 3R Soft plans to offer IMAP, LDAP, and spell checking support. While 3R Soft does not produce any GPL software, they are compatible with Red Hat, Caldera, TurboLinux and Apache.

Other Korean Linux Companies
At least three other Korean companies produce seperate Korean versions of Linux:

  • Linux Korea markets the Power Linux distribution and the Netspirit 2000 and 3000 Linux-based servers.
  • Korea Linux sells the Alzaa Korean version of Red Hat.
  • ClassData offers the Class 6.0 Enterprise Linux distribution, which has an interesting glass bottle logo and the catchy slogan, "stop paying your Bills."

In addition, Informix Korea has a series of Korean pages devoted to Linux, including links to downloads.

Linux Use Growing Rapidly
According to Denis Havlik:

"I have been witnessing an enormous growth of "registered Linux users" in Korea for quite some time. (Take a look at "the Linux Counter", under "Denis Havlik's report"...) The growth is not so dramatic any more, but still rather fast: 156% annually."

"Registered users" probably account for less than 1% of the Linux user base(*) -- currently there are more than 3,000 registered users. Therefore, my estimate is "more than 300,000 Linux users in South Korea" today. Greater than 500,000 would not surprise me, either."

The Fight for the Linux Trademark
Sadly, all the positive news about Linux in Korea is not without its controversy. The last week of August, a fight broke out over the Linux trademark, when a lawyer for Kwon Yong-tae, who holds a Korean trademark for 'Linux', demanded that the Kyobo Books bookstore stop selling books with Linux in the title. Three days later, the incident became a hot topic on Korea's popular Linux bulletin board and it made the English Linux news sites the following weekend.

Allegedly, the trademark was applied for in 1995 and granted in 1997. Korean publishers, business and other interested parties are still working to resolve the issue. For those interested, Lee Kyong-ho is maintaining an event time line at the bottom of his Web page on the problem, with a link to an English version of a petition.

[ Also by Randy Leganza: Free Software in Korea: Part One -- The Microsoft Connection ]
Randy lives in Taegu, Korea and is on his third, most fun and least stressful career. He's the QA/Test guy on a small team supporting a large Solaris WAN integration project, with a few Linux boxes scattered about. He gets to play with computers all day and intentionally break them -- then complain about it, and usually see things get fixed. When he can, he likes to fly airplanes, lift weights, hunt and fish.