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Posted May 26, 2008 by publisher in Business In Cuba

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Inter Press Service

Cuba’s widespread adoption of free software has been slow going. Although the country announced its intention to switch over to open source software three years ago, so far only its customs service has adopted GNU/Linux on all of its computers.

After years of deliberation, the University of Havana has finally decided to switch over to free software on its network of computers, virtually all of which currently use Windows operating systems.

The plan, which was approved by the University Council, envisages the intensive training of professors and computer personnel this year, followed in 2009 by the broad installation of the GNU/Linux operating system, which uses the Linux Verio brings something extra to Linux: reliability. Click to learn about free test. kernel created by Linus Torvalds of Finland in 1991. The free Linux system would replace Windows, which is produced by the United States software giant Microsoft.

“It’s a plan for the long term,” said Yudivin Almeida, a professor in the mathematics and computer science department of the University of Havana. “It’s an attempt to minimize conflict and avoid abrupt changes, such as removing Windows and installing Linux.”

Multiple Stages

In fact, the changeover strategy is made up of several stages, from installing specific programs such as the browser Mozilla Firefox to replace the widely used Internet Explorer, which began Jan. 5, to training operators to use OpenOffice instead of Microsoft Office, until patented software is finally dropped.

According to U.S. software developer and activist Richard Stallman, the founder of the free software movement and the creator of the General Public License, a free program must comply with four freedoms: the freedom to run the program for any purpose; the freedom to study how the program works and adapt it to your needs; the freedom to redistribute copies so you can help others; and the freedom to improve the program and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits.

Almeida said it was logical to start with those who teach computer science and computer laboratory staff, “because they are the most resistant to change.” Students, in contrast, have to accept the contents of each subject as laid down in the course plan. “Computer course curriculums need to be revised, as at present they are mostly taught using Windows,” said Almeida, who coordinates the Free Software and Linux User Group at the University of Havana, where several departments are changing their course plans after the changeover to free software was approved.

“When free software has been installed on all of the university’s computers, it will make no sense to teach using anything else,” he concluded.
A Drawn-Out Shift

Cuba announced its intention to switch over to free software in May 2005, beginning with the government’s central administration offices. However, so far only the customs service has adopted GNU/Linux on all of its computers.

A national working group was formed to promote the shift, including representatives of the ministries of education, justice, the interior, higher education and the armed forces, as well as the customs service, the Office for Computerizing Cuban Society, the Computer Sciences University, the University of Havana and the Jose A. Echeverria Institute.

“The national group makes suggestions, but there is no legislation to enforce the changeover,” Almeida said.

On April 10, he posted on his personal Web site a decree by Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa concerning a shift to free software in that country’s central public administration offices.

The purpose of the move is to “attain sovereignty and technological autonomy,” as recommended by the Ibero-American Charter on Electronic Government, approved by the Ninth Ibero-American Conference of Ministers for Public Administration and State Reform, held in Chile in June 2007.

Winning acceptance of free software has not been easy at the University of Havana, where courses of study in social sciences and other subjects take precedence over the new information and communication technologies, the 27-year-old Almeida said.

“University professors have been the most reluctant to change, because they have become proficient in the use of certain patented software instruments,” said Almeida, who has a degree in computer science.

According to Almeida, those who oppose the change claim that free software is of lower quality than commercial programs such as Windows, an argument that is often hard to settle, while they overlook other aspects such as technological sovereignty.
Taking a Step Forward

The overwhelming majority of the approximately 380,000 computers in Cuba run on illegal copies of the Windows operating system and use pirated versions of programs, for which no license fees are paid, because of the four-decade U.S. embargo against the island.

According to a survey on access to selected information and communication services carried out by the state National Statistics Office, 33 percent of Cubans over 6 used a computer at least once during 2007.

The study found that computers were most frequently used in post offices and centers called “Youth Computer and Electronics Clubs,” which were organized by the Young Communist League to spread knowledge of new technology. Computer access in the home only accounted for 5.2 percent of the total.

In Almeida’s view, free software would end the University of Havana’s dependence on programs for which unaffordable sums in license fees would become payable if relations with Washington become normalized in future. In addition, it would promote the socialization of knowledge, one of the basic goals of higher education in Cuba.

“This issue had been discussed for a long time without any decision being reached,” Almeida said. “The start of the plan is quite a significant step forward.”

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