One of more modest goals of the Open Source and Linux software community is World domination. Well, it seems we might just be doing it. We take a look at the Status of Linux and Open Source projects in Southern Chile, after the recent Latin American Linux Install fest in South America.
Linux shops and Internet Cafes
The Linux Operating system has made some real inroads around the World in Recent years, slowly replacing Microsoft. However, after traveling around various developing countries for the last decade, it seems the real test of success for any technology is often how long it takes for its adoption on the fringes of the planet. We could count the printing press, cell phones, and coca-cola perhaps as examples. I don't think Microsoft, or even the personal Computer, would count. As common as MS is, it would not count for the simple reason that not everyone in the world has a computer, or the ability to buy a computer. A rather strange fact after 30+ years of mass production and marketing.
From the looks of it, Microsoft might not get the chance, if the Linux and Open Source software community gets there first. In the context of Southern Chile, it is becoming increasingly less surprising to find Linux and Open Source software. Firefox is obviously the most common Open Source project encountered in Internet cafes in Chile. The Google payments for installing Firefox took care of that nicely. One or two Linux magazines in Spanish, with a free Open Source CD, is common at most newspaper stands on the streets. So far nothing too special. What caught us by surprise was when a shop called the “Tux Center” opened a block away in little Temuco, Chile. There was a series of posters advertising the Latin American Install fest in the window and the Penguin was everywhere. Pure curiosity took over.
We spoke to the owner, Roy Alvear Aguirre. His says his goal is to offer a combination of an Internet cafe and classes in building and installing Linux systems. Advanced courses will be geared towards web and mail server installations. The Linux Internet cafe is a real gamble, considering that there are at least 10 windows based Internet cafes within three blocks, including two in the same building. He wants to give people a chance to get know Linux.
The Latin American Linux install Fest
Roy is also one of the local organizers of the Latin American Linux install fest. They managed to get Linux into 80 to 100 computers. The installs were mostly of the SUSE Linux persuasion, and a couple of Ubuntu installs. His weapon of choice is the SUSE 10 distribution, followed by Fedora, with some Ubuntu on the side.
When we asked him what he would like help with the most from the international Open Source community, the answer was better documentation at all levels. Much of the Spanish documentation is behind the English version, or non-existent. They find themselves producing unofficial manuals for end users. I will leave it to the Open Source community to sort out the best solution to that problem, but better documentation seems a simple request. Also on the wish list, would be more open source repositories in Chile. Even with broadband, moving a DVD image from the other side of the Earth is still a slow process on the best connections.
Edulinux in the South of Chile
The edulinux project has a local chapter sponsored by Universidad de La Frontera in Temuco and Chilean Ministry of Education ( http://www.edulinux.cl ). This is geared towards reconditioning old windows computers into Linux Terminal Servers for schools. They are planning installations in 1800 schools around Chile in 2006.
There is a large push in a lot of government offices in Chile. One example is The Institute for the National Youth (INJUV). Another would be the security systems at the international airport in Santiago. More offices are in the planning stages of moving.
The computing environment in general in Chile
Chile has a unique problem compared with many other Latin American countries. Somewhere, along the way, a decision was made in the education system to only teach Microsoft centric technology. Thus, a whole generation of Chile's IT workers were trained only in Visual Basic and Windows Servers. Subsequently, not as many Open Source repositories or projects are to be found in Chile, compared to countries like Argentina or Brazil.
Regardless of Microsoft's best marketing campaigns, very few computers in Southern Chile will be making the leap to the Vista Windows anytime soon (assuming there is such thing). Many computers still run some form of windows 2000 or windows 98, because even Windows XP is too expensive and ram hungry to upgrade. The price of new computer in Chile, with Windows XP installed, will easily run at least 30-50% more than a comparable computer sold in the United States. So looking to the future, Windows Vista will be helping to promote Linux in Southern Chile and much of Latin America for some years to come.
It is hard to put an exact number on Linux users in Southern Chile. However, considering the number of users we have encountered just in little Temuco, along with the fact there it is only about 5 million people that live in all southern Chile, Linux seems to have a pretty good foothold.
The Killer Linux App: The $100 notebook
One of the things that has real hope for expanding the use of Linux in South America, and many places around the world, is the $100 laptop project at MIT. There are endless small towns and rural areas where the kids and the community, would benefit from every kid having one in the house. Students I am in touch with in China, have heard about it, and are excited. Chile on the other hand, is not as poor as rural China or India; however, there are still a lot of people that lack access to affordable computing and thus affordable information.
Other than the items listed above, help with education, education, and more education is the key to Linux World domination. Yes, better applications are always needed; however, doing the public relations to get people to adopt those applications is key. Think of it as an investment in the next generation of Linux developers and Open Source projects. There are numerous places in the world where it is still 1990 in computing and Internet terms. These are places where people are not so much deciding to move from Windows to Linux but to their very first computer. What they find running on that computer will have a lot to do with the success of Open Source Software in General.