Friday, February 13, 2009

Join Cuba's Free IT Revolution

Saving cash and breaking Microsoft's stranglehold are not government priorities but it could take a leaf out of Cuba's book, as the country gets to grips with the IT revolution, with plans to run computers on Gates-free, free software. 

In what smacks of a fresh salvo in a new Cold War, the island is following Russia's lead and moving away from Microsoft operating systems with its own take on the free, open source Linux-based system.

Here the government is paying lip-service to open source, vowing to boost its uptake in public services to reduce costs but with little evidence of action. A government 'action plan' is due to be published later this month.

The government's love affair with hugely expensive and utterly useless government IT projects is now beyond a joke, as gullible ministers continue to be taken in by the flannel of slick salesman, who promise the earth and deliver nothing. 

Today the biggest white elephant and biggest IT disaster, the £12.7 billion NHS computer shambles took a further knock, with one hospital trust claiming it's been forced to pump in £10m to prop up the useless system, causing the now all too familiar "heartache and hard work"

As the NHS's Connecting for Health (CfH) computer system, dogged by problems and more than five years behind schedule, comes crashing down around the government's ears, beavering away in the background is the dominance of Microsoft in government departments and public bodies particularly schools, in return for a whopping licensing fee. 

Microsoft has a clear marketing aim to put its software in every computer in the world and who can blame them? But just because Bill Gates is big buddies with government doesn't mean ministers have to roll over and write a blank cheque with taxpayers cash. 

Computer sales to the public in Cuba only began only last year and the move is all part of a plan for "technological sovereignty".

The country this week launched its own variant of the Linux operating system in the latest fight against what it views as US hegemony.

According to Hector Rodriguez, dean of the School of Free Software at Cuba's University of Information Sciences, about 20 per cent of computers in Cuba, are currently using Linux. 

"I would like to think that in five years our country will have more than 50 per cent migrated to Linux," he said.

In Cuba it makes sense. The long-standing US trade embargo against the communist island makes it difficult for Cubans to get Microsoft software legally, as Castro's kid brother Raul tries to bring the country into the 20th century. 

But the movement towards free, open source operating systems and software has dedicated supporters throughout the world. 

Moving away from Microsoft is not pie in the sky. It's happening already in the new breed of Netbooks now on sale in the High Street. It makes sound economic sense as any issues over compatibility can be easily fixed. 

Rodriguez said free software better suits Cuba's world view: "The free software movement is closer to the ideology of the Cuban people, above all for the independence and sovereignty."

Now that's a tad controversial coming from a left-wing dictatorship but anything that's free and puts the brakes on Microsoft's plans for world domination is worth a serious look. 

Hasta La Victoria Siempre. 

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