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June 30, 2014 - Linux in Korea

June 30, 2014

Linux in Korea

I use Linux for everything, it's my main OS. I do dabble from time to time in other esoteric operating systems, but never any of the great evils of the computer world (Windows/OS X). However, living in Korea has been a challenge, and it certainly pushes your Linux skills to the max.

Recently, a friend of mine expressed an interest in free software and Linux, and he asked if I could install Linux on his computer for him and delete that evil Windows. I was of course very happy to install Linux for him, but erasing Windows was something I was reluctant to do, since this is Korea and I know there will be problems. However, he insisted and I removed the Windows partition from his hard drive. In the end, it is probably for the best.

Let's me just take a second to talk about the problems in Korea, since nobody else seems to be doing so.
The first and most obvious problem in Korea is Korean web sites. This problem is the biggest obstacle to using Linux in Korea, and it's everybody's fault. Korea often boasts that it has the most sophisticated Internet of any country, but this is no where near the reality. Korea may have the highest number of internet connected devices, but this is far from a measure of technological superiority as many Koreans claim. The vast majority of these devices are "smart" phones, which are among the most useless devices ever created. The Korean Internet speeds are greatly exaggerated, and have been surpassed by several other countries (a fact which has been largely ignored in Korea), and from experience I can tell you that internet outages are much more frequent here than in the United States, though that might be my landlord's problem. None of these are specific problems for Linux, but the next one is; Websites only work in Internet Explorer.
The reason for this is three-fold. First of all, the Korean government has stupidly mandated the use of ActiveX controls for all online financial transactions. This means it's actually illegal for a Korean bank or online shop to make their website work on Linux, or even in Firefox or Chrome on Windows. Only Internet Explorer on Windows is supported, by law. So in Linux, there is no shopping online or online banking in Korea. To make matters worse, Korean software developers love ActiveX and abuse it like crazy. Everything here is made in ActiveX, and designed only for Internet Exporer. Even if the website doesn't rely on ActiveX or IE, often it will explicitly check your browser and OS type and deny access if you are not using IE, even though the website would otherwise work fine. One website in particular I had been using without problem for about 1 year before they "upgraded" it to check my browser. I was very angry and wrote the organization a very angry email, to which they replied something along the lines of "Sorry you are not happy, but we don't really care at all." (paraphrasing of course). I was able to coax the website into functioning properly by configuring my browser to identify itself as Firefox on Android, which works because there is a mobile version of the website designed for smartphones. However, not all features are available in the smartphone version, which worked to my advantage because clicking on a non-mobile feature triggers a message which says (in Korean) "Sorry, there is no mobile version of this page, would you like to be redirected to the full version of this website?" Which then works as it should. Finally, the Internet users in Korea are part of the problem because they have no desire to ever try anything new. China does not have this problem, there dozens of stupid Chinese browsers that are popular in parts of China, but in Korea, only Internet Explorer is ever used. If Korean Internet users were demanding and pushing for better browser support, then they would most certainly get it, and might even succeed in eventually overturning the ActiveX mandate. If Korea truly wants to ever be the leader in Internet technology, this is one of the first things that has to happen. Without variety, there is no innovation.

The second problem is documents. In the US, Microsoft Word is prevailent. This is obnoxious, but at least there is a good workaround for this in Linux. Both OpenOffice and Abiword can read and write Microsoft Word documents reasonably well, so this is usually never a problem and makes leaving Windows easy. It also makes new Linux users feel very happy when they realize that they do not need to fork out $300 just to be able to type stuff. However, Korea is a different story. Korea has Haansoft Inc., developer of Hangul Word and part of the alliance responsible for Asianux. Hangul Word is the most popular word processor in Korea, and it is also the worst word processor ever to be developed. I have never met a person who enjoyed using Hangul Word if they had any experience with anything else. In addition, it saves files by default in a format called HWP. This format cannot be opened even by Word. Linux actually does a better job in this regard as both OpenOffice and Abiword claim to open this type of file. However, there are two versions of HWP files, and Linux word processors are only capable of opening files of the pre-1997 format. So any HWP file created today will be worthless to a Linux user.
I expected better from a company that helped develop their own Linux distribution (which I am trying to download now). So I did some research. Turns out that in 2008, Haansoft released a Linux version of Hangul Word. The port was never very good, and very difficult to install, so there are many websites explaining how to get it working. However, this is all worthless because although Hangul 2008 was available for Linux, it is not available any longer. Haansoft also released a new product called "ThinkFree", which supports neither freedom nor thinking. The product is available for Linux, but only because it is written in Java, and nothing is worse than Java. In addition, they expect you to pay about $50 for it, which I would actually be happy to do if I needed it, and if it wasn't written in Java. I will never pay for software written in Java. Java should never been used for application development (or anything). So, opening HWP files in Linux is a bust. It's just not possible.

The third problem in Kakaotalk. Kakaotalk is by far the smallest problem out of all the problems I have mentioned. Kakaotalk is an ad-supported smart phone application that allows IP based text chat and voice calls. However, there is also a Windows client as well, though you still seem to need to have your account connected with your cell phone. The application on Windows is pretty simple, so I expected that it would be fairly easy to run in Wine. However, this is not the case. I still suspect that using the program in Wine is technically possible (Kakao doesn't use unimplemented features), but there is a one little obstacle. Kakaotalk installs in Wine easily, but on startup, it "detects" that the computer is not running Windows and then exits. So it probably would work fine, but the Kakaotalk developers have intentionally blocked it from running under Linux.

On my friend's computer, we solved these problems by running VirtualBox and Windows. It's about the worst case scenario, but that's what had to be done. On my computer I solve the problem by never using anything Korean, and complaining loudly every time there is a problem.

Korea, your computer technology is not good enough, you need to change.

Anyways. That's all for now. Peace!