Posted on Sat, Feb. 17, 2007
Cuba moving to ditch Microsoft, its products
AGENCIES LEAVING WINDOWS FOR OPEN-SOURCE LINUX
By John Rice
HAVANA – Cuba's communist government is trying to shake off the yoke of
at least one capitalist empire — Microsoft — by joining with socialist
Venezuela in converting its computers to open-source software.
Both governments say they are trying to wean state agencies from
Microsoft's proprietary Windows to the open-source Linux operating
system, which is developed by a global community of programmers who
freely share their code.
“It's basically a problem of technological sovereignty, a problem of
ideology,'' said Héctor Rodríguez, who oversees a Cuban university
department of 1,000 students dedicated to developing open-source programs.
Other countries have tried similar moves. China, Brazil and Norway have
encouraged the development of Linux for a variety of reasons:
Microsoft's near-monopoly over operating systems, the high cost of
proprietary software and security problems.
Cuban officials, ever focused on U.S. threats, also see it as a matter
of national security.
Communications Minister Ramiro Valdés, an old comrade-in-arms of
President Fidel Castro, raised suspicions about Microsoft's cooperation
with U.S. military and intelligence agencies as he opened a technology
conference this week.
He called the world's information systems a “battlefield'' where Cuba
is fighting against imperialism.
He also noted that Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates once described
copyright reformers — including people who want to do away with
proprietary software — as “some new modern-day sort of communists'' —
which is a badge of honor from the Cuban perspective.
Microsoft did not return calls seeking comment. Cuba imports many
computers pre-loaded with Windows and also purchases software in third
countries such as China, Mexico or Panama.
Valdés is a hard-liner who favors uniforms and military haircuts, but
the biggest splash at the conference was made by a paunchy, wild-haired
man in a T-shirt: Richard Stallman, whose Free Software Foundation
created the license used by many open-source programs, including Linux.
Middle-aged communist bureaucrats and ponytailed young Cuban programmers
applauded as the computer scientist from the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology insisted that copyright laws violate basic morality; he
compared them to laws that would threaten people with jail for sharing
or modifying kitchen recipes.
Stallman also warned that proprietary software is a security threat
because without being able to examine the code, users can't know what
it's doing or what “backdoor'' holes developers might have left open
for future entry. “A private program is never trustworthy,'' he said.
Cuba also has trouble keeping proprietary software current. Its sluggish
satellite link to the outside world makes downloads of updates
agonizingly slow. And U.S. companies, apparently worried about U.S. laws
restricting trade with Cuba, are increasingly blocking downloads to the