CUBA - Linux -- we all should
Down with the Microsoft bourgeoisie
By Timothy Prickett Morgan
Cuba has launched its own Linux variant, dubbed Nova.
The Nova project has been cooking away for the past year, and it was formally unveiled this week at the annual International Conference on Communication and Technologies in Havana. At last year's conference - a Microsoft-bash-fest - open source luminary Richard Stallman convinced attendees to take open source software not only to their heart, but to their computers.
The Cuban government, under the auspices of the Universidad de las Ciencias Informáticas (UCI), created Nova by spinning its own rev on the Gentoo variant of Linux. English speakers will no doubt have fun with that catchy Nova name, which has turned up in urban mythology involves other products in Spanish speaking countries, including a Chevy sedan and some Mexican gasoline.
The country missed the perfect opportunity to call it Fidelix, and if they wanted to be technically correct and give a bow to Stallman - the founder of the Free Software Foundation - they could have called it GNU/Fidelix. A forward thinking Cuban IT industry might have opted for Raulix as well. But open source projects don't seem to be any better at naming products than the marketeering departments at corporations.
Linux and the free and open source applications that run on it would seem to be a natural fit for a communist country, and considering that commercial-grade open source operating systems and applications have been available for decades, it is more than a little surprising that Cuba hasn't long since abandoned Windows on its PCs and servers. But despite trade embargoes, Windows still runs on most of the computers on the island nation, according to a report from Reuters.
That report says that Cuban citizens have only been able to buy PCs for the past year (before then, they had access to them in PC clubs, akin to Internet cafes but apparently without the coffee). And in that time, according to Hector Rodriguez, dean of the School of Free Software, about 20 per cent of the computers shipped in the country are running Linux. The hope is that the advent of Nova will boost the share Linux holds. "I would like to think that in five years our country will have more than 50 percent migrated," Rodriguez told Reuters.
Cuba is also jumpy about the potential security issues that Microsoft's Windows and other operating systems pose - and not the kind of security issues that most of us think as we use our PCs and systems in our day-to-day work and home lives.
"Private software can have black holes and malicious codes that one doesn't know about," Rodriguez said. "That doesn't happen with free software."
The Cuban Nova Linux is not to be confused with the Linux variant of the same name that Palm is developing for PDAs and other mobile devices.
It is not clear where to get Nova or what packages it has. It is also not clear how the Cuban government plans to offer tech support for the product. Presumably, it will be done through free community support. And they appear to need some tech support fast. The UCI Web site, which appears to be running on Nova and which is where you can get Nova (if my reading of Google cached pages is correct), is down as we go to press because it is being barraged by too much traffic.
Maybe Cuba should start an indigenous server business
Cuba Steers Clear of Microsoft and all its Evils
Communications Minister Ramiro Valdes, an old comrade-in-arms of President Fidel Castro, raised suspicions about Microsoft's cooperation with U.S. military and intelligence agencies as he opened a technology conference this week. He called the world's information systems a "battlefield" where Cuba is fighting against imperialism. He also noted that Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates once described copyright reformers _ including people who want to do away with proprietary software _ as "some new modern-day sort of communists" _ which is a badge of honor from the Cuban perspective.
Cuba Embraces Open-Source Software
By John Rice (Friday, February 16, 2007)
HAVANA -- Cuba's communist government is trying to shake off the yoke of at least one capitalist empire Microsoft Corp. by joining with socialist Venezuela in converting its computers to open-source software.
Both governments say they are trying to wean state agencies from Microsoft's proprietary Windows to the open-source Linux operating system, which is developed by a global community of programmers who freely share their code.
"It's basically a problem of technological sovereignty, a problem of ideology," said Hector Rodriguez, who oversees a Cuban university department of 1,000 students dedicated to developing open-source programs.
Other countries have tried similar moves. China, Brazil and Norway have encouraged the development of Linux for a variety of reasons: Microsoft's near-monopoly over operating systems, the high cost of proprietary software and security problems.
Cuban officials, ever focused on U.S. threats, also see it as a matter of national security.
Communications Minister Ramiro Valdes, an old comrade-in-arms of President Fidel Castro, raised suspicions about Microsoft's cooperation with U.S. military and intelligence agencies as he opened a technology conference this week.
He called the world's information systems a "battlefield" where Cuba is fighting against imperialism.
He also noted that Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates once described copyright reformers _ including people who want to do away with proprietary software _ as "some new modern-day sort of communists" _ which is a badge of honor from the Cuban perspective.
Microsoft did not return calls seeking comment. Cuba imports many computer preloaded with Windows and also purchases software in third countries such as China, Mexico or Panama.
Valdes is a hard-liner who favors uniforms and military haircuts, but the biggest splash at the conference was made by a paunchy, wild-haired man in a T-shirt: Richard Stallman, whose Free Software Foundation created the license used by many open-source programs, including Linux.
Middle-aged communist bureaucrats and ponytailed young Cuban programmers applauded as the computer scientist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology insisted that copyright laws violate basic morality; he compared them to laws that would threaten people with jail for sharing or modifying kitchen recipes.
Stallman also warned that proprietary software is a security threat because without being able to examine the code, users can't know what it's doing or what "backdoor" holes developers might have left open for future entry. "A private program is never trustworthy," he said.
Cuba also has trouble keeping proprietary software current. Its sluggish satellite link to the outside world makes downloads of updates agonizingly slow. And U.S. companies, apparently worried about American laws restricting trade with Cuba, are increasingly blocking downloads to the island.
Cubans try to get around the problem by putting software updates on a server located on the island. But many computers wind up unpatched and vulnerable.
Cuba's Cabinet also has urged a shift from proprietary software. The customs service has gone to Linux and the ministries of culture, higher education and communications are planning to do so, Rodriguez said.
And students in his own department are cooking up a version of Linux called Nova, based on Gentoo distribution of the operating system. The ministry of higher education is developing its own.
Rodriguez's department accounts for 1,000 of the 10,000 students within the University of Information Sciences, a five-year-old school that tries to combine software development with education.
Cuba is also training tens of thousands of other software and hardware engineers across the country, though few have computers at home. Most Cubans have to depend on the slow links at government internet cafes or schools.
Rodriguez shied away from saying how long it would take for Cuba to get most of its systems on Linux: "It would be tough for me to say that we would migrate half the public administration in three years."
But he said Linux use was growing rapidly.
"Two years ago, the Cuban free-software community did not number more than 600 people ... In the last two years, that number has gone well beyond 3,000 users of free software and its a figure that is growing exponentially."
Even so, most of the computers at this week's technology conference showed the red, green, blue and yellow Windows start button in the bottom left-hand corner of their screens.
And the start of the open-source sessions was delayed as organizers fiddled with the computer running their projector. The conference room screen had been displaying the words "Windows XP."
Originally appeared in Associated Press and Washington Post.