In May 2005, the head of the Office for
Computerizing Cuban Society, Roberto del Puerto, announced that the
government was preparing for its central administration offices to
switch to the free GNU/Linux system, which uses the Linux kernel
written by Linus Torvalds of Finland in 1991. A national group was
formed for this purpose.
The Cuban government
proclaimed its intention to exchange its computer operating systems for
free software in 2005, but the state agencies that are in charge of the
switch have done little to make it happen.
Indeed, the exchange seems to be contingent mainly on the efforts of
a small community of enthusiasts.
The overwhelming majority of this Caribbean island nation's
computers run on illegal copies of the Windows operating system produced by Microsoft
(Nasdaq: MSFT) . Most people use pirated
versions of programs for which no license fees are paid, which are also
in effect free to users.
as in Software (Not Beer)
"There's still a great deal of resistance to the change," acknowledged
Yudivin Almeida, a professor in the mathematics and computer science
department at the University of Havana. In his view, Cubans are
impervious to the argument that free software costs nothing because the
U.S. embargo on the island means it is obliged to ignore license fees
"We need to talk about freedom, about knowing exactly what you're
using and having the opportunity to adapt the software to your needs,"
said Almeida, who coordinates the Free Software and Linux User Group at
In Almeida's view, apart from the millions of dollars in license
fees that Cuba would have to pay if its relations with Washington are
normalized, progress in the country's IT industry depends on having
licenses that are recognized by the international market. At the
moment, only free software meets that condition.
"At one point, we started using proprietary software on the
principle that Cuba has a right to develop," Almeida said. "But now
that there is an alternative, why should we continue to use it?"
The Four Freedoms
The General Public License created by U.S. software developer and
software freedom activist Richard Stallman states that free software
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.
Stallman visited Havana in February for an international IT event
and took the opportunity to recommend changing over to free software.
"The main obstacle is social inertia, but Cuba is experienced in
fighting major obstacles," he told the newspaper Juventud Rebelde.
In May 2005, the head of the Office for Computerizing Cuban Society,
Roberto del Puerto, announced that the government was preparing for its
central administration offices to switch to the free GNU/Linux system,
which uses the Linux kernel written by Linus Torvalds of Finland in
A national group was formed for this purpose, including
representatives of the ministries of education, justice, interior,
higher education and the armed forces, the customs service, the Office
for Computerizing Cuban Society, the Computer Sciences University, the
University of Havana and the Jose A. Echeverria Institute.
Two years later, in July 2007, the deputy minister of IT and
Communications, Jorge Luis Perdomo, told Juventud Rebelde that using
free software is part of a strategy to attain technological sovereignty
and is a "pillar of national security."
According to Perdomo, gradually weaning off of Windows is a
challenge "as much in terms of material resources as in terms of
training. At the moment, organizational and security
aspects are being structured so as to create the necessary conditions
to facilitate the changeover in the country's institutions."
So far, only the customs service has adopted the GNU/Linux system on
all of its computers, although servers at the electronic health
information network Infomed and at the University of Havana have also
been using GNU/Linux since the mid-1990s.
The Proprietary Choke Hold
"Tailor-made applications are the biggest problem," Almeida said.
These programs are written to solve specific problems and tend to run
on Windows, as do many of the multimedia products widely used in the
national educational system.
Expanding the adoption of an operating system such as GNU/Linux does
not seem to enjoy unanimous approval among experts. "We have to go on
using Windows, because it is still providing new developments. To do
otherwise is crazy," said an expert on IT platforms who wished to
Some 4,000 people have become trained as GNU/Linux operators by
taking courses at more than 600 Youth Computer and Electronics Clubs,
which are organized by the Young Communist League and are dedicated to
spreading knowledge of new technology throughout the populace.
The government's model of "social appropriation of information and
communication technologies" prioritizes the installation of computers
and databases in sectors such as health, education, culture and
scientific centers, above individual access.
A Linux Festival?
"The Youth Clubs are very helpful in promoting free software
systems," Almeida said. "They are working with the community of free
software users to organize a Latin American Festival of Installation of
Free Software in Cuba."
"In Cuba, there is a community of people who like and promote free
software, but they are not at all institutionalized," said Almeida, who
has a degree in computer science. "More and more people are interested
in learning Linux, but it's still a 'guerrilla movement' that isn't
taken seriously enough."
"We have to emphasize the philosophy of free software, the ideas of
cooperation and freedom of information. The ideas of the Cuban
Revolution are compatible with this, so why not work more closely
together in the field of intellectual development? I think of this as a
crusade against the privatization of knowledge," the expert said.
© 2007 Inter Press Service. All rights reserved.
© 2007 ECT News Network. All rights reserved.