Cuba Embraces Open-Source Software

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By JOHN RICE
The Associated Press
Friday, February 16, 2007; 3:42 PM

HAVANA -- Cuba's communist government is trying to shake off the yoke of at least one capitalist empire _ Microsoft Corp. _ 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 Hector Rodriguez, 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 Valdes, 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 computer preloaded with Windows and also purchases software in third countries such as China, Mexico or Panama.

Valdes 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.


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© 2007 The Associated Press

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