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140,000 Mexican school labs to be outfitted with Linux and GNOME. Out of the blue this week (at least for those of us not deeply tied into the GNOME project) came this message from Arturo Espinosa Aldama, leader of the "Scholar Net" project in Mexico. This project's goal is to outfit every elementary and mid-level school in Mexico with computers and a connection to the net. It is an ambitious project; they intend to set up 140,000 computer labs over the next five years. This is a worthy project, but what really raised eyebrows was their announcement that these labs will be set up with Linux machines running the GNOME desktop.
The labs in question are intended for student use. They will give students access to the Internet, via the usual services (email, web). Students will have access to office tools for doing their homework. Their math curriculum includes exercises with spreadsheets. Thus, the tools they need include web browsers, word processors and spreadsheets. Netscape (or Mozilla/GTK), gwp, and gnumeric look set to fill the bill nicely.
Some work needs to be done to get these tools to where they need to be for Scholar Net's purposes. The gwp word processor has a ways to go yet before it's ready for prime time. Many of the GNOME tools need some basic work for user interface consistency. And, of course, everything needs to be fixed up to work in the Spanish language. Scholar Net intends to dedicate some resources to pushing forward some of these tools; in particular, they want to focus on gwp.
They are also asking for volunteers to help with some of the tasks. What they would like, more than anything else, is for the GNOME folks to work with their needs (consistency, stability, and multi-lingual capabilities) in mind. Since this isn't far from what GNOME wants to do anyway, they are not asking for a lot. They would also like help from those with Spanish skills in the translation of GNOME applications and documentation. Interested persons are invited to contact Mr. Espinosa; see the announcement for contact information.
So why did Scholar Net decided to go with the Linux/GNOME platform? According to Mr. Espinosa, the deciding factor was cost (though they certainly appreciate the other benefits of free software as well). The price for proprietary software for 140,000 labs (with an average of six workstations and one server each) is very high. Linux is also able to make better use of cheaper hardware, leading to more savings. For a project of this size, it is far cheaper to hire some programmers to fill in some gaps than to try to work with proprietary systems.
One could easily imagine that there could be difficulties in selling this approach to the Powers That Be. However, according to Mr. Espinosa:
"We thought there would be some resistance from the big bosses but, due to the attention Linux is being paid in the mainstream computing media, the University is now considering Linux as a valid option and we are being accepted because we do have something to show."He may well be making light of the difficulty of selling any project of this size. Nonetheless, this success is a clear sign of just how far Linux has come in the last year.
It would be hard to overestimate the importance of this project and the course that it has taken. Soon, a substantial portion of the Linux user base will be made up of Mexican schoolchildren. Mexico is raising a generation of Linux users. The visibility of this effort will be high; it will make it that much easier to justify the use of Linux in other situations. GNOME is getting more developers and a committed set of users. And, as if the project were not large enough already, Mr. Espinosa suggests that, if Scholar Net is successful, it is possible that it will be expanded through the rest of Latin America via the Instituto Latinoamericano de la Comunicación Educativa. Again, in Mr. Espinosa's words: "I would like to invite the Universities of other countries to consider Free Software as a real-world solution to the problem of bringing computers to every education level."
A web page is being put together to describe the Scholar Net project and to answer many of the questions that have been raised. It is not currently up, so, rather than hand out a dead link, we will ask interested readers to keep an eye on LWN. As soon as the Scholar Net page is available, we will let you know. [Update: the Scholar Net web page is now available.]
Scholar Net is important, and we wish them a great deal of luck and the best of success.
Finally, LWN is much indebted to Arturo Espinosa Aldama for quickly answering our many questions.
A couple of followup items to last week's discussion of Microsoft France's anti-Linux "open letter". The Association Francophone des Utilisateurs de Linuxput together a very well done response to that letter; thanks to Rick Moen we also have an English translation of this response.
One of Microsoft's claims was that there are no word processors with on-the-fly spelling checking for Linux. People who are not easily offended may want to check out this screen shot, wherein an "anonymous critic" responds to this claim by testing out his four-letter word vocabulary against Word Perfect 8.
We need more letters to the editor. Do you have something on your mind? Here is your chance to express your thoughts to thousands of Linux users. Please send letters to be published to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Atlanta Linux ShowcaseLiz Coolbaugh wrote up an overview of her experiences at the Atlanta Linux Showcase (ALS). Included in the summary are pointers to her detailed notes from many of the talks, as well as other various reports on the ALS from other people: Eric Green, Zach Brown and Scott Lewis. If you weren't there, it will give you a lot of the information you missed. If you made it, it may still provide you a glimpse of portions of the show you may have missed. Until next time, congratulations to the Atlanta Linux Enthusiasts! You did a great job.
October 29, 1998