Korean Saga

2006.10.16 글쓴이 youknowit

A bit of dirty laundry first. For everybody loves lurid stories.

Those from outside Korea might have an impression that Korea is “linux friendly”. Rightly so, because that’s how it was portrayed in the media. See, for example, a news report which appeared at silicon.com on 1 October 2003 (“Korea jettisons Windows for Linux“).

Now, this needs to be put in context. In December 2002, Mr Roh Moo Hyun was elected President due largely to volunteer activists who used internet to campaign for his election. This was a remarkable event which demonstrated formidable potentials of internet as a new means of communication and empowerment of grassroot citizens. Professor Lawrence Lessig is not the only one who is intrigued by this.

On 25 January 2003, one month before Mr Roh’s official inauguration, the entire Korean internet went completely paralyzed for 9 hours. No banking, no stock transaction, nothing (“Virus knocks out Internet for 9 hours“). The catastrophy demonstrated that the Korean internet was defenceless in the wake of a virus which exploits security loopholes of Windows OS. The attack was worldwide. No other country was so severely affected as Korea. At that time, the market share of MS Windows OS for client PC’s in Korea was 99.4% (Source [in Korean]).

President Roh himself is known to be a competent user of computer. He even wrote a small program or two. Also, he is probably one of few Heads of State in the world who actually know that Windows is not the only operating system. Anyway, perhaps in an effort to make up for the “humiliation” of 25 January 2003, Korean government announced, seven months after President Roh took office, an astonishing policy. It was promised that, by 2007, 20% of client PC’s and 30% of servers in Korea shall be based on free or open source software! This stirred up a wild excitement among GNU/Linux users worldwide which account for less than 3% of computer users. The rest of the world looked upon Korea as a “paradise” for GNU/Linux users.

However, in a spectacular reversal of fortune (which has never been properly reported in or outside Korea), the government subsequently changed its policy in the opposite direction. The country is now completely dominated by MS. There is no point in counting the “die hard” Mac or Linux users in Korea who do not even add up to 0.1%. Even these users all have to have Windows as well. The country became most hostile to open source software and Mac users.

And yet, Korea has probably the most progressive statutes which impose various legal duties on the Executive to implement highly advanced and “neutral” IT infrastructure. Electronic Signature Act requires official certificate authorities to provide certification services for Linux and Mac users as well as Windows users. Electronic Commerce Act imposes a legal duty on the government to ensure inter-operability of e-commerce solutions. The statute requires the government to adopt and implement platform-neutral (obviously!) Technical Standard applicable to e-commerce. The Act for Reduction of Information Disparity and the Act for Promotion of Digitisation of Information impose comprehensive duties on the government to take measures to provide unrestricted access to digitised information for people with disability, social or economic disadvantage, ie. those who cannot afford to buy high-spec hardware or Windows pre-installed computers.

The present reality is a grotesque insult to all these statutory requirements. For reasons unknown to us, the government repeatedly granted license to “official” CA’s who refused, and still refuse, to serve Linux or Mac users. The vast majority of Korean websites (including 100% of government-run websites) rely on ActiveX controls. Linux, Mac users (and even Windows users who choose “other” web browsers) are prevented from logging on to the Korean e-goverment website (www.egov.go.kr), which is dubbed “open” government with a bizarre sense of humour.

What is more, in the late 90′s, the government started to subsidise IT-related education (web designing courses, in particular) offered by private academies. Many of them are members of “Microsoft Partner Program”. Most of these government subsidised courses were devoted to the sole purpose of propagating MS-optimized, proprietary web designing techniques. As a result of several years of these government funded “education programs”, very few people in Korea now have any knowledge of standard compliant web page designing.

Handful of end-users have been tirelessly complaining for years. The government has firmly ignored their complaints. The Federation of Korean Scientists made an official denouncement of the government’s failures in IT related policies (already in 2003; source [ko]). That too was ignored. A tiny portion of web designing community has been making heroic efforts to campaign for standard compliance. But it remains a lone voice in the wilderness.

Now, what do you think?

Do you think this is something that can be remedied by end-users’ campaigning? What end-users? There aren’t any who can complain now, let alone campaign. Accurate figures for 2006 are not available. But I suppose MS Windows’ market share in Korea has “steadily increased” from 99.4% which was reached already in 2002. I want to believe that this whole mess was due to pure incompetence and ignorance on the part of the government. But I sometimes wonder whether upward of 99% market share is something that can be achieved through sheer incompetence and ignorance.

But the best part of the saga is this: Korean government spends about $400m p.a. “to promote open source software and web accessibility”.

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  • Julian Stoev

    Hello, I work for Samsung in Korea and I know what you speak about. I wish you good luck with your fight, but I am not optimist. In fact this kind of mentality in government and companies is one major reason for me considering it is time to move and go somewhere else to work. I like Koreans. Korea is nice and safe place. But the system in Korea is a mess and is simply incapable to deliver high quality engineering. It may be shocking, but innovation in incredibly low in Korea.

  • youknowit

    Let’s hope that things change for the better soon. Many thanks for your interest in our cause.

  • David Oftedal

    Wouldn’t it be possible to merely create an open-source implementation for SEED and use that in Mozilla, Opera, KHTML and so on though? The specification seems to be freely available on-line, so surely that ought to be possible?

    Or is it that not only SEED, but ActiveX itself, is required?

  • http://openweb.or.kr keechang

    ActiveX is not required. But it is most widely propagated and well acquainted coding method among Korean coders.

    Electronic Signature Law of Korea requires government accredited CAs to provide ‘user software’ for certificate handling. This ‘user software’ must meet several conditions prescribed by the relevant regulations and technical specs.

    The government wanted to avoid the situation where its ‘officially endorsed’ user certificates are being handled by a variety of web browser-builtin certificate management and form-signing modules, which are beyond the control of the Korean government. These browser builtin modules might not always be using the required level of encryption strength or required algorithm.

    Given these regulatory framework, the accredited CAs in Korea decided to provide the ‘user software’ in the form of ActiveX controls.

    Open web is now suing KFTC, which is an accredited CA with the lion’s share(70%) in Korean certificates market (proceedings were lodged on 23 Jan 2007). We argue that KFTC must provide ‘user software’ for other browser users as well.

    KFTC can choose, either 1) to provide a java applet or flash plugin which can support a wide range of platforms and browsers; or 2) to provide ActiveX controls for windows+IE users AND other solutions such as java applet, flash plugin for those who do not use windows/IE.

    If KFTC is not too stupid, they would choose java applet. We intend to explain to the judge that Danish government has already been using java applet to provide platform independent certificate handling solution. http://www.openoces.org/

    Just as Korean CAs must not force us to use IE web browser, we must not force IE users to switch to Firefox or other great browsers.

  • David Oftedal

    Ah, so the issue is quite complex!

    Well, good luck with your lawsuit… May your voices be heard!

  • Pingback: netzpolitik.org: » Koreanische Regierung “verkaufte ihre Seele an ActiveX” » Aktuelle Berichterstattung rund um die politischen Themen der Informationsgesellschaft.

  • http://open.unfix.net youknowit

    바로 위, netzpolitik.org 는 독일의 정보인권 운동을 주도하는 blog들 중의 하나입니다. 어제 게시된 글은, 영문 Korea Times에 보도된 우리 오픈웹 활동을 근거로 하여 한국의 상황을 설명하고, 외국에서 한국학을 연구하는 연구자들(매킨토시, 파이어폭스, 오페라 등을 이용하는 분들이 물론 많지요)의 포탈 사이트인 http://koreaweb.ws/ 에 게시된 글을 인용하면서, 한국 인터넷이 “나쁜 기술에 전적으로 의존”하고 있음을 지적하고 있습니다.

    이 블로그의 제목은 “한국 정부, ActiveX에게 영혼을 팔다” 입니다. 조금은 선정적이지만, 냉정히 평가하면 그리 틀린 말도 아닐 것입니다.

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