While I worked on new PCs in school, my friends in Panama wanted me to help them with RPG II on their their IBM System 3. In case you don’t remember or even know, the System 3 was IBM’s low-end business computer. When introduced in the 1970s, the System 3 seemed like state of the art. By the time it got to developing countries in central and south America it was out of production in the US and the IBM PC had taken over the market.
I knew people who made a lot of money selling old, worn out System 3s to people in Panama, for example. These brokers bought the systems for scrap metal and sold them for prices IBM got for new ones in the 1970s. The folks in Panama thought they had died and gone to heaven they were so happy to get the System 3.
In the late 1990’s, I met a fellow who established the first Linux Documentation Project mirror in India. If you can imagine, Linux was practically unknown in India in 1999. Much of that had to do with the caste system, though plenty of India’s technology experts will argue with me until they turn red in the face.
In India, you can find seven universities which train the elite class in computer technology. Those schools are in Delhi, Kanpur, Kharagpur, Madras, Bombay, Guwahati and Roorkee. They all go by the name of the Indian Institute of Technology. Since they only exist for the elite, the fellows don’t want free software getting into the hands of the poorer people in India. Oh my gosh, that could cause all sorts of problems, you know.
So, my friend finally found someone in Madras to host the mirror back in 1999. It ran on a Microsoft NT server running IIS. But my friend didn’t care because he wanted to bring programming and computer science to the poor people of India. He knew if Linux got to India, he could help eliminate some poverty.
I remember the whole situation. Large programming companies in India were charging $8 US to do the work of people in the US. Those folks in the US got $75 to $100 for the same work. Meanwhile instead of training poor people in India to do the work, the India firms were outsourcing some of their work to China for half – $4 an hour.
At the time, Microsoft was the national computer operating system in India and China. Everyone programmed in English so they did the expedient thing. The problem everyone had back then: they could not get their hands on computers.
So, some very smart people in China and India came to the US and bought up every old 486 and Pentium I computer they could find. They paid an average of $15 for Compaq DeskPros. In some situations, companies paid them to take them off because it cost so much to dispose of them. Those computers were considered hazardous materials.
This went on for a few years until people from the Middle-East came over and started paying top price for those computers. They wanted the hard disks so they could find information about the US. When companies disposed of the computers they didn’t clean the hard disks. One fellow who out bid a friend of mine said he found records from local US governments on some of those computers.
But these people didn’t want computers to give to kids in schools like the Indians and Chinese. They wanted the information. Even with them taking the remaining inventory away, plenty of computers went to China and India.
I understand how the people in India and China think. That same thinking also prevails in Latin America. The educated class has all the money and the vast majority of people have no way to rise on the social ladder. Without education, we cannot compete. even with education, it’s hard to get a job. But, you can find jobs, it’s just difficult.
So, Linux has become popular in Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries. Only the wealthy people can afford expensive computers and software. In some schools where they actually have computers, they may have only one computer for every one hundred children.
Those older Compaq DeskPro computers with a 486 chipset, sell for hundreds of dollars. Even though you can buy a new white box computer for less money, it doesn’t say Compaq on it and it doesn’t say made for Microsoft Windows.
Now, Linux has taken off
Corruption is everywhere in developing countries. To do business in these places, you have to pay government officials. It isn’ the top people but people in positions to stop your imports from getting through or from getting the proper stamps. Anyone who has done business in developing countries knows this is true. Everyone is on the take and companies bribe everyone so they can just do business. The US government could hire a few people to take pictures and they could charge every company with Foreign Corrupt Practices. But, we think they don’t really care to pursue it.
So, Linux takes off because it is like an underground movement. Think of the French underground during the German occupation in World War II. They were organized so well.
In the places where the rich have no power, Linux spreads like wild flowers. And because of a company named Connectiva, Linux got a foothold in Latin America, especially in Brazil. It was a slow start, but it was a start.
Now, with Mandrakesoft and Connectiva merging into Mandriva, we don’t worry as much about importing software. This is our software and we build our own computers because Intel makes the parts in our countries. We have factories for all the parts we need and we people who assemble computers.
At one time, American computer companies came here and set up these factories to make computers for them. They would ship the parts and our people would assemble them for $5 a day. But that wasn’t good enough. Now, all that business has gone to China. People say that the Chinese use prison labor, but I do not know about that. They are just said to have cheap hands.
So, we have the means of production for our own computers. With our own software, it’s a Linux cottage industry. Our students can learn to program instead of learning spreadsheets. That makes us more valuable.
You cannot erase this progress. You can’t come into our countries and bribe our officials and give away software to our schools any more. You can pay Vincente Fox $150 million but that won’t stop Linux. Because, Linux is in every person’s mouth these days. Linux, Linux, Linux!
I hope that you get this message in your country too. Well, I should say our country because I was born in the US. I read a lot about American isolationist policy in school. I understand that isn’t so popular any more.
But, I tell you friend, if you only use Microsoft, you will be isolated again. Because plenty of people want to kick them out. Not because they are an American company, but because they are Microsoft.
Posted by tadelste on Jan 29, 2006 2:24 PM
Lxer.com; By Fernando Lopez