Tuesday, March 29, 2011

For Cuba Open Source Is Not A Matter Of Choice

Lack of access to commercial software makes open source the only choice for Cuba

In case you want to attend, Cuba is hosting the Latin American Festival of Open Source Software on April 9th. It seems Cuba is a big supporter of open source and is trying to have a majority of its computers run Linux. In fact Cuba has its own Linux distribution called Nova. But if you think about it, Cuba does not really have a choice but to support open source. However, that in and of itself could be a double edged sword to regime there.

For over 50 years now, Cuba has been under a trade embargo with any US goods. That means that US companies cannot trade directly with Cuba and even third party countries cannot trade US goods with Cuba either. As a result with so much of the IT industry being US based or US derived, Cuba has a very hard time getting both hardware and software in the country. For most of that time for the average Cuban it was not that big a deal. They weren't allowed to own a computer, even if they could afford one.

For the government and educational sectors computer technology was more and more necessary. For a long time Cuba relied on the Soviet Union to provide computer technology. In fact based upon that technology, Cuba was selling technology back to the Soviets. But of course that all dried up with the end of the Soviet Union. Cuba had to find another source.

Luckily for Cuba by now most of the hardware was being built in China and other areas that would sell to the Cubans. However, the software was still US based, so getting Windows, Office or even security software was a real problem. Consequently, most of the computers run pirated copies of Windows that have been smuggled in.

That represents a real problem on several fronts. It puts Cuba in the position of violating the license, subjecting them to penalties (though what penalties could there be here), it creates a black market for the pirated software (not good in a communist economy) and keeps them at the mercy of the US trade embargo. Also Cubans believe that the US CIA and other agencies have back doors into Windows and other programs which would allow them to spy on Cuba. A healthy dose of paranoia there.

As they say necessity is the mother of invention. The unique Cuban situation created a new perfect environment to rally behind open source software in general and Linux in particular. This gave Cuba legal, ready access to quality software, at prices they could afford and free of any US strings or perceived back doors. This opened up Cuba to the PC era.

But that is the rub for the Cuban government. Opening up the country to the PC era also meant the Internet. How do you stop people from seeing what their peers around the world are doing. Ask the leaders of Eygpt, Tunisia and Libya how that worked for them.

When Raul Castro took over for his brother Fidel, he made it legal for individuals to own computers. Of course going out on the Internet outside of Cuban based web sites was still illegal. But once the genie is out of the bottle, it is near impossible to put back.

Based upon the experiences of the rest of the world, I think it only a matter of time until open source and the Internet force change in Cuba the same way it is helping force change the world over.

!Viva La (Open Source) Revolucion!

By Alan Shimel

From: NetWorkWorld

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