Sunday, July 25, 2010

How OSS is Helping to Develop Nicaragua

Open source software can affordably aid in the development of Nicaragua by providing a variety of services for educational institutions, the government, and local businesses.
Before explaining how Nicaragua can benefit from this technology, the following definitions must be presented in order to clarify the difference between Open Source Software and an Operating System. An operating system, or OS, is a computer’s master control program that sets the standards for every running application (Operating System). Examples of an operating system include, but are not limited to the following: Apple’s OSX Leopard, Microsoft’s Windows 7, Ubuntu 9.10, OpenSUSE, and Debian are all examples of operating systems. Open Source Software, or OSS, can be defined as software that is distributed with its source code so that others may modify the software for their own use (Open Source). Examples of open source software include, but are not limited to the following: Linux operating system, Apache Web server, and Open Office are all examples of open source software. An open source operating system is an operating system that comes with the source code. Such a system would include any distribution of Linux including Ubuntu, Linux Mint, OpenSUSE, Fedora, Mandriva, Debian, and Frugalware.
Linux Tour, which promotes the use of the Linux operating system, has events throughout the year including a Mandriva install party, día Debian, OpenSUSE day, and Software Freedom Day (Eventos 2008). Software Freedom Day is a day in which those who are well acquainted with Linux advertise the benefits of open source software to local businesses and schools (Competition 2008). During this event, Linux users demonstrate how to solve common problems of home users, small businesses, and educational institutions using open source software (Competition 2008). Workshops entitled “Learning by Doing” teach people how to make their own Web sites using Wordpress and how to use the astronomy program Stellanarium (Competition 2008). People can also avail of a free installation of various Linux programs at Linux Tour events (Competition 2008). Software Freedom Day 2008 was streamed live via MarcaAcmeTV and was viewed by people in Nicaragua, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, as well as other regions in Latin America (Competition 2008). As a result of Software Freedom Day, 400 free software discs were distributed and 30 computers had free software installed at the event (Competition 2008).
Because of local groups such as Ubuntu Nicaragua and the Linux User Group and events like Linux Tour, use of open source software in Nicaragua has increased. The following are two graphs demonstrating the increase:

[Source: Grupo Usuario Linux de Nicaragua (Nicaragua’s Linux Group),
This graph reveals how many people in Nicaragua use a form of open source software as their operating system. Although Linux is slightly ahead of Mac, it trails behind Windows. All of the operating systems just below Mac in the list are other open source operating systems. So when one adds all of these together, the percentage is much higher but still way below Windows. The next graph reveals a pattern in open source operating system use in Nicaragua.
From 1994 until 2000, there were almost no Linux users in Nicaragua. From 2000 onward, the trend for Linux use was upward sloping. The amount of Linux users is only 128 according to Linux Counter; however, these are only the number of users who added his or her computer to the registry at Linux Counter. Most people do not register their software. The figure of only 128 Linux users makes little sense and conflicts with the over 21,000 Linux users listed in the first graph. The trend, therefore, is the most important factor of this graph.
[Source: Linux Counter]
The following is some background information regarding Nicaragua’s economy: Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America and is the second poorest in the Americas behind Haiti (Nicaragua). Around 79% of the population live on less than $2 per day; almost half the population live on less than $1 per day (Nicaragua). Although unemployment was not very high (5.6%) in 2008, underemployment was a staggering 46.5% (World Fact Book). The year 2009 has not been an economically successful one for Nicaragua (World Fact Book). Due to decreased export demand, GDP fell by almost 3% in 2009 (World Fact Book). Public debt was approximately 87% of the GDP in Nicaragua (World Fact Book). Although there are many industries in Nicaragua —including food processing, beverages, footwear, wood, textiles, clothing, petroleum refining, machinery, metal products, and chemicals— agricultural products and raw materials are Nicaragua’s main exports (World Fact Book). Exports from Nicaragua include coffee, sugar, tobacco, gold, beef, shrimp, lobster, and peanuts (World Fact Book). Imports to Nicaragua include consumer goods, machinery and equipment, raw materials, and petroleum products (World Fact Book). Nicaragua imported $1.624 billion more than they exported in 2009 (World Fact Book).
Investing in human capital can be difficult for an under-developed nation (World Fact Book). Of the 5.8 million people living in Nicaragua, only 185,000 of them have internet access (World Fact Book). The lack of internet access could hinder the learning of young children and the operations of a small business. Because many businesses and schools are unable to afford most popular software, they are beginning to experiment with OSS.
Nicaragua is very limited in funds for education (Nicaragua). The Ministry of Education is allowed to use the budget level from 2000 for every year until 2010 due to IMF restrictions (Nicaragua). The salary of school teachers is low (Nicaragua). Schools cannot afford to spend on expensive software when their budgets are being cut.
The Ministry of Education, National Technological Institute, Ubuntu Nicaragua Team, and delegates from the main private and private universities have developed a plan to develop an Ubuntu-based educational system for both public and private schools throughout the country (Nicaraguan Schools Go Ubuntu). Guardabarranco, Nicaragua’s national bird, is now the official name of this education project (20,000 Ubuntu Laptops). In 2009, 20,000 laptops for teachers were distributed with Linux pre-installed (20,000 Ubuntu Laptops). Throughout Nicaragua, there are now 175 public schools with computer labs (Flying on the Wings of Freedom). Their choice of distribution was developed by the government of Extremadura, Spain (Flying on the Wings of Freedom).
Despite this progress, many schools are still limited in their ability to educate their students. Most computer labs only have seven computers for a class of 35 to 40 students to share (Flying on the Wings of Freedom). Some schools in Nicaragua do not have internet access and thus, cannot upgrade their systems (Flying on the Wings of Freedom). The local Linux User Group, or LUG, is supporting one school by upgrading all of their systems to GnuLinEx 2006 (Flying on the Wings of Freedom). The LUG group is also contacting local companies to ask if they are able to donate some hardware for the schools to use in the computer lab (Flying on the Wings of Freedom).
The chart below demonstrates the gradual improvements that can lead to a booming economy over time. For instance, Preschool enrollment has more than doubled (Nicaragua Country Brief). Rural road conditions have improved (Nicaragua Country Brief). The amount of time required to start a business has nearly been sliced in half (Nicaragua Country Brief). Perhaps the most drastic improvement is in regards to technology. The percentage of small, rural towns being connected to public telephones has nearly quadrupled in only five years (Nicaragua Country Brief). If internet usage were made available to follow these trends, a boost in technology and education –and thus output– would occur.
[Source: World Bank]
Kevin Brandes is a software engineering student at the Oregon Institute of Technology (Brandes Part II). Legal versions of Windows sell for little less than they do in the states (Brandes). According to Brandes, Nicaraguans, unlike Americans, do not hold a bias against open source software due to the products being free (Brandes). Nicaraguans are more concerned with what the software can do than what brand they come from (Brandes). Brandes went to Nicaragua to teach people how to use Linux, including how to configure thin clients (Brandes). The thin client aspect allowed Brandes and others to offer affordable systems to rural schools (Brandes). Linux allowed Brandes and his group to use any hardware, including those donated by businesses (Brandes). Keving believes that his most important project to date was running OpenSUSE 9.0 on their diskless clients, which give a clear advantage over Windows when marketing to local schools and businesses (Brandes Part II). According to Kevin, Microsoft inspectors visit internet cafés in Costa Rica to see verify authenticity (Brandes). If this happens to Nicaragua, many more businesses will have to turn to Linux and other free software.
Agriculture is known as the base of Nicaragua’s economy (Wilm). Denis Cáceres of Debian Nicaragua had just begun working with the Mesoamerican Information Service about Sustainable Agriculture when he and a few others began a project to develop an information system for the Ministry of Agriculture, supported by Swedish and Spanish agencies (Wilm). The idea was to combine a Wiki text portion with a Javascript-based statistics portion and put it online so that anyone can access current and historic data (Wilm). The system, entitled ALBAstryde, would be entirely open source so that anyone can have access to the information and edit it as needed (Wilm). Cáceres explained the reason for an open source system was so that the system would grow to someday envelop the whole agricultural sector in a few years (Wilm). No one organization or company has control over the information; and thus, no one can hold Nicaragua hostage (Wilm). Cáceres believes that the next step for Nicaragua is to incorporate the system into every subdivision of the Ministry (Wilm). There has been an enormous surge in desiring free software after the ALBAstryde project (Wilm). Many times, however, there is not enough technical knowledge to use it (Wilm).
The internet is becoming more available in poorer parts of the country (Wilm). As a result, the government has a real opportunity to help their people through the use of open source systems. The person in charge of the informatics department later admitted to the SIMAS team, “You know that we did not really support you from the beginning because we did not trust free software, but now that will have to change. The Ministry and SIMAS need to work together and maybe soon we will migrate to Linux systems, because we see that this system really works (Wilm).” The government is now also using the Linux for its Migration Project (Nicaragua: Open Source).
Roughly 50 desktop computers are being migrated to Ubuntu in various departments (Nicaragua: Open Source). The government has teamed up with Linux User Groups (LUG) for their assistance with these systems (Nicaragua: Open Source). As a result, three team members of Nicaragua’s LUG group have now been employed full-time by the government to give Ubuntu support to users (Nicaragua: Open Source).
Blogger LEOGG has been working with LUG and public institutions around Nicaragua to take advantage of the various uses of open source software (Nicaragua: Open Source). In his article “Nicaragua Libre” he explained how he helped the rural town of Jalapa develop and use Linux-based software (Nicaragua: Open Source). In Jalapa, there are two particularly intriguing projects in which LEOGG is involved. One of these is the digitalization of thousands of public records (Nicaragua: Open Source). Fifteen computers are devoted exclusively to using Ubuntu Hardy and XSane for this task (Nicaragua: Open Source). The second project is in relation to adding Ubuntu and a custom-made software for making and receiving payments to 12 cashier booths (Nicaragua: Open Source).
Most recently, Nicaragua’s LUG has been chosen to produce a new technology program on Canal 2, Nicaragua’s largest television network, broadcasted weekly (Nicaragua: Open Source). This new program is beneficial to business owners as it would demonstrate beneficial, new open source technologies. ALBAstryde, the open source program for the Ministry of Agriculture, can greatly benefit businesses as well as the government. Information cannot be held secretively by any organization under such a system (Wilm). If the velocity of knowledge sharing is raised, risk for small businesses will decrease, especially for those in agriculture. This knowledge sharing has the potential to encourage new industries and greater competition.
Policy Implications
Like with everything, there are pros and cons to everything. The following are some pros and cons of using open source software:
To clarify the chart above, the pros and cons must be explained in further detail. Open source software is important to developing nations because it is free. It is also relatively easy to install due to software centers. Software centers or packages come with open source operating systems. These packages have a wide variety of software for educational, business, programming, and science purposes. Open source software is versatile because the source code can be adapted for personal use. Graphical User Interface, or GUI, allows users to cut down terminal and code usage. All of these advantages allow open source software to be used with little trouble.
Unfortunately open source operating systems have frequent errors. To remedy these errors, one must use the terminal. Frequent errors can lead to inefficiency in a business because time is money. Compatibility is not that big of an issue anymore due to changes in updates in software and changes made by Linux. Many companies still consider investing in a Linux-compatible program a waste of time and resources. Until Linux gains more market share, many companies are likely to continue to support only Windows and Mac. Some users will not want to settle for an open source alternative to the software they love. Software attachment could be solved by either demonstrating the similarities between the popular software and the open source equivalent or by simply making the popular software available to those who use Linux.
Open source software is an option for under-developed and developing nations because it is free and relatively easy to use. If a business is hoping to compete globally, more sophisticated, and thus expensive, software is needed. For the majority of small businesses and government programs, however, open source software can lead to rapid progress.
Rapid growth is achieved by higher levels of output in the economy. Output is determined by its inputs. In economics the following formula can be used to summarize the relationship between output and inputs:
Output is represented by the letter Y. The equation reads that output is a function (f) of capital (K), labor (L), and technology (T). Due to the positive relationship between output and its inputs K, L, and T, an increase in any of the inputs causes an increase in the output. This reasoning can be used to determine the rate of output for a company, an industry, or the economy as a whole.
This equation can be used to analyze the effects open source software has on Nicaragua’s economy. An increase in the use of open source software leads to an improvement in technology and thus an increase in production; T increases. The use of open source software in schools has led to an increase in computer labs and thus, more hardware; K increases. Because businesses pay less for their software, they can focus on investing into the business in other ways; K increases. As students are educated to use open source software at an early age, these individuals will age into skilled adult workers; L increases. This increase in education will lead to improvements in technology and so K and T will increase even further.
A visual representation of this rapid growth can be seen in the chart below:

In most industrialized nations there is a trade-off between manufactured and agricultural goods. As an economy pumps more into one good, the amount available to pump into another type of good dissipates. The production possibilities curve is the maximum amount of output that can be reached from the amount of input available. If open source technology is used, Nicaragua can save money. That money can be used toward paying back their International Monetary Fund debt or toward paying for various government projects. Open source operating systems come with software packages that can be used to educate students in regards to biology, astronomy, computer programming, geography, and even learning a foreign language. Educated students will become highly skilled workers. These workers will be able to produce higher quality goods. Open source code can be used to design software for businesses so that they can produce more or save time. All of these factors can raise productivity.
Another way in which open source software benefits Nicaragua is by creating a collective mind of information. Open source software can be used, and has been used, in Nicaragua to share information and build upon that knowledge. Businesses and government officials can then make well-educated decisions. This collective mind hive would help Nicaragua develop rapidly simply because the information made available will lead to further revolutionary ideas in the fields of business, education, science, and policy-making. The sharing of ideas would better educate the masses and lead to higher productivity in a short amount of time.
In conclusion, utilizing free, open source software would give Nicaragua a competitive advantage if it were distributed throughout all areas of the government. Open source software is an option that can enable the government and educational sectors to deal with budget cuts without sacrificing quality. Students benefit from the knowledge obtained by using open source software. As a result, Nicaragua will have a highly skilled work force that is able to compete on a global scale. Open source systems also improve communication and data sharing, which is vital for a modernized government or business. Governments can better ensure that there are no monopolies, at least in regards to information, with open source systems. The government of Nicaragua should consider implementing open source software packages and personalized software in every department. This will significantly lower the cost to tax payers and improve their communication systems. Businesses can avail of the government systems online and use that information to aid in their decision-making. As a whole, open source software is a cost-effective way to increase knowledge, productivity, and output.
Works Cited
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Avila, Renata. "Americas: Looking Forward to Central America Free Software Festival." Global Voices. 09 June 2009. 05 Mar. 2010. .
Brandes, Kevin. "How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Bringing Linux to Nicaragua." Linux Journal. 30 July 2004. 06 Mar. 2010. .
Brandes, Kevin. "How I Spent My Summer Vacation: Bringing Linux to Nicaragua, Part II." Linux Journal. 2 Aug. 2004. 06 Mar. 2010. .
"Competition 2008: Final Report." Software Freedom Day. 2008. 6 Mar. 2010. .
Crafts, Nicholas. "Productivity Growth In The Industrial Revolution: A New Growth Accounting Perspective." Jan. 2002. 7 Mar. 2009. .
"Eventos 2008." Linuxtour. 29 Nov. 2008. 07 Mar. 2010. .
"Flying on the Wings of Freedom." ComuNIdad. 4 Aug. 2008. 4 Mar. 2010. .
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“Nicaragua Country Brief.” The World Bank. 17 Aug. 2009. 10 March 2010. .
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"Nicaraguan Schools Go Ubuntu." ComuNIdad. 13 Nov. 2009. 04 Mar. 2010. .
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"Sistemas Operativos." Grupo Usuario Linux De Nicaragua Estadísticas De Acceso. Grupo Usuario Linux De Nicaragua. 7 Mar. 2010. .
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Wilm, Johannes. "Nicaragua Builds An Innovative Agricultural Information System Using Open Source Software." Linux Journal. 12 Nov. 2009. 4 Mar. 2010. .
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