Cuba launches own Linux variant to counter U.S.

HAVANA Wed Feb 11, 2009 2:48pm EST

A girl turns on her brand-new computer that her parents just bought in Havana, May 2, 2008. REUTERS/Claudia Daut

A girl turns on her brand-new computer that her parents just bought in Havana, May 2, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Claudia Daut

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HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba launched its own variant of the Linux computer operating system this week in the latest front of the communist island's battle against what it views as U.S. hegemony.

The Cuban variant, called Nova, was introduced at a Havana computer conference on "technological sovereignty" and is central to the Cuban government's desire to replace the Microsoft software running most of the island's computers.

The government views the use of Microsoft systems, developed by U.S.-based Microsoft Corp, as a potential threat because it says U.S. security agencies have access to Microsoft codes.

Also, the long-standing U.S. trade embargo against the island makes it difficult for Cubans to get Microsoft software legally and to update it.

"Getting greater control over the informatic process is an important issue," said Communications Minister Ramiro Valdes, who heads a commission pushing Cuba's migration to free software.

Cuba, which is 90 miles from Florida, has been resisting U.S. domination in one form or another since Fidel Castro took over Cuba in a 1959 revolution.

Younger brother Raul Castro replaced the ailing 82-year-old leader last year, but the U.S.-Cuba conflict goes on, now in the world of software.

According to Hector Rodriguez, dean of the School of Free Software at Cuba's University of Information Sciences, about 20 percent of computers in Cuba, where computer sales to the public began only last year, are currently using Linux.

Nova is Cuba's own configuration of Linux and bundles various applications of the operating system.

Rodriguez said several government ministries and the Cuban university system have made the switch to Linux but there has been resistance from government companies concerned about its compatibility with their specialized applications.

"I would like to think that in five years our country will have more than 50 percent migrated (to Linux)," he said.

Unlike Microsoft, Linux is free and has open access that allows users to modify its code to fit their needs.

"Private software can have black holes and malicious codes that one doesn't know about," Rodriguez said. "That doesn't happen with free software."

Apart from security concerns, free software better suits Cuba's world view, he said.

"The free software movement is closer to the ideology of the Cuban people, above all for the independence and sovereignty."

(Editing by Jeff Franks and Bill Trott)

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