Linux brings hope to Spain's poorest region

Summary:The rural Spanish region of Extremadura has seized on the potential of open source software to improve the lot of its citizens and kick start the local economy

"New information technology can help us achieve our goals," Juan Carlos Rodriguez loudly proclaimed recently. The president of Extremadura may be the leader of the poorest region of Spain, but that hasn't dented his ambition or his belief in technological progress.

Like the governments of countries such as Venezuela, China, Thailand and India, Extremadura has been pumping money into the research and promotion of locally developed software as a way to keep pace with technological investment in other parts of the world and give its economy a boost. While Western European cities such as Vienna, Munich and Paris have only recently latched onto the potential of Linux, Extremadura has been heavily investing in open source software for years.

Bordering Portugal to the west and Andalucia to the south, Extremadura has a population of around 1.1 million but the employment rate is only around 50 percent. Although short of financial resources, the region has set itself ambitious targets when it comes to improving its IT infrastructure. As far back as the mid-1990s the government began to pin its hopes on information technology as a way to overcome its historically "peripheral" standing within Spain.

The regional government was saying as far back as 1997 that information technology, and open source software in particular, was key to the region's economic and social development. "The time of the industrial era, when discoveries were abusively capitalised and unfairly monopolised, is over. A new model is necessary; a model which would allow the improvement of the lives of all citizens in Extremadura," it declared at the time.

The biggest implementation of open source technology in the region to date has been in the education sector, with around 70,000 desktop PCs and 400 servers in schools across the region now running Extremadura's unique version of Linux called LinEx, which was created by a Spanish company and is based on Debian.

Pop Ramsamy, a project officer at Fundecyt, one of the organisations supporting the region's use of Linux says that although total cost of ownership studies are divided on whether open source is actually cheaper than proprietary software, for Extremadura the cost savings have been significant. Documents supplied by Ramsamy revealed the total cost of the Linux software, deployment and support costs for the first year of the 70,000 desktop education project to be around €190,000 (£130,000).

"For two or three computers the issue of cost is not really a great issue — you can use proprietary software," says Ramsamy. "When you have 70,000 PCs it's different. Microsoft also made a tender [for the education project] but their price was very high, he claims. "After calculating all the savings we have obtained today, we believe that our costs have been lowered by €18m."

Another advantage of using open source is that it benefits local businesses, according to Ramsamy. "SMEs from Extremadura developing software cannot be competitive when they work with proprietary code since its raw material belongs to big multinational companies," he says. "However, they can be competitive when they work with open source software, as their business is not selling licences, but giving services."

Topics: Developer

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