Extremadura is the poorest region of Spain, lagging behind the rest of the country in both the economic and technological arena. Though short on financial resources, the region has set very high goals for itself in its Regional Strategy on Information Society. This paper briefly describes the region\'s strategy and continues to discuss how the use of Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) aids the regional government in achieving its goals.
The Spanish Region of Extremadura covers over 41,000 km², of which most consists of rural lands. It has approximately 1.1 million people, 4.5 times less than the European average per km². After the services sector (almost 60%), the farming sector is the second largest sector, with 16.6% of all employed people in the region.
In the mid-90s the regional government saw that new information technology could help the Region to overcome its historical \'peripheral\' situation. One thing the region did not lack was ambition. The only problem was how to make that ambition a reality using the scarce financial resources that were available.
Looking for a way to move forward, a new vision was developed which looked at things very differently than had been done before:
"The time of the Industrial Era when discoveries were abusively capitalized and unfairly monopolized, is over. A new model is necessary; a model which would, adapted to the Digital Era we live in, allows the improvement of the lives of all citizens in Extremadura, and that\'s not imposed to them, but rather defined by them. The key to achieve this is to work in the way of the Knowledge Era."
In 1997 the President of the Region launched the Regional Strategy on Information Society. It set out to change the way in which the government looks at its own goals:
"[The] policy lies in the application of technological innovation for the promotion of freedom and equal opportunities, taking advantage of and putting at the disposal of everyone, what is nobody\'s property: the knowledge gathered by Humanity all through History."
Two formal objectives were presented by the strategy:
- Accessibility for all; Internet as a public service; and
- Stimulation of technological literacy.
The strategy was deployed by a Strategic Framework for stimulation of Extremadura\'s capabilities as a region, and a Technological Framework supporting the former.
The LinEx project, a combination of "Linux" and \'Extremadura", is directly derived from this strategy. We discuss LinEx in greater detail below, but first look at how the project is related to the other actions.
The Intranet programme is the first one of its kind in Europe. It provides connectivity to all sorts of public buildings in the region, like schools, health centers, hospitals, employment offices, etc. In total approximately 1500 locations are connected using broadband access facilities. Together this network forms the Regional Intranet, which is also linked to the internet. In practice this means that all villages in the region have public internet access points.
e-Extremadura is the Programme for Innovative Actions, co-financed by the European Commission to develop projects on the three objectives of the Regional Strategy.
The New Knowledge Centers (NKCs) aim to increase the literacy amongst the population of rural areas and of the poorest neighbourhoods of big cities. There are 32 of these NKCs established, in cooperation with the municipalities.
ENT is the Technical Education Network. It promotes the e-content developed by teachers and students, as well as the use of information technology in the classroom. It has a ratio of 1 PC per 2 students. See more on this below.
Finally, Vivernet is the business incubator. Its objectives are to:
- encourage the entrepreneurial spirit in the ICT sector in Extremadura;
- support innovative business initiatives;
- train people capable of confronting the challenge of creating their own business using technological tools; and
- promoting business relations.
The LinEx initiative is a direct derivative of the regional strategy. Its objective is to create a fully functional platform, based on FLOSS, providing universal access of IS tools to all citizens. While doing so, it aims to provide adaptability, economical benefits and security as much as possible, without losing sight of actual feasibility. The symbol of the project is a crane bird, an animal that occupies large parts of the region.
Early on in the project, it was decided that LinEx was not going to innovate the software itself, but rather concentrate on specific translation and customization of the software and take care of the distribution. To avoid technical problems during the initial phase of the project, a Spanish company was hired to take an existing set of Linux software from the web and customize it.
LinEx contains a large amount of software, including the GNU/Linux operating system and several office applications. More functionality is coming however, since Extremadura is also funding a development center creating accounting software, hospital applications and argicultural applications. All will be run on LinEx. The region\'s government will ship the resulting software for free to all of its citizens.
LinEx is specifically designed for use in regional administration and schools, where the use of LinEx is on a ratio of 1 PC per 2 students, but the software is distributed for free on a much larger scale than public bodies. Besides its spreading in NKCs and Vivernet, there are examples of manufacturers preloading LinEx on the PCs they sell, or magazines copying the software on CD and distributing it to their readers for free.
The following picture provides an overview of the different target audiences of the LinEx project.
At the time of writing, LinEx has been installed on 40,000 computers in schools, providing ICT services to 80,000 students. The government has produced 150,000 installation discs and is providing them to everyone who is interested. It has even created some TV commercials to promote the benefits of FLOSS.
Illustration 3 gives a general impression of a typical desktop of a running LinEx system.
By looking closely, one can see examples of the customization LinEx has performed on the names of applications and their icons on the desktop. Both refer to the culture, the heritage and the natural resources of the region. For example, Espronceda (the word processor) is the name of one of the 19th century writers from Extremadura.
Use of FLOSS
The choice of software to use for the project was limited. Given the combination of Extremadura\'s strategic goals and the limited financial resources available, the use of FLOSS was a logical one and insured everyone would be able to benefit from the effort by giving away copies of the software.
Or, as Luis Millán Vázquez de Miguel, Minister of Education, Science and Technology, argued: "Making free software available -- that we\'ve designed for use in an educational environment, but are offering to all citizens for personal or professional use -- is a key part of technological literacy." He also states that by having people use computers through LinEx, the region can avoid outward migration of people and businesses. Instead, Extremadura can start creating new industries.
Apart from the political aspects, experiences on the technical level are also favourable towards the use of FLOSS. Francisco A. Huertas Mendez, technical coordinator of LinEx, said: "For us, software libre (open source software) was the only choice. We were able to stretch our budget very far and provide a powerful and easy-to-use environment with Linux and GNOME. We are also able to give the students all of the productivity programs they need."
Cost and benefits
LinEx is co-financed by e-Extremadura, the Programme for Innovative Actions. Below is a small table with the total costs for the LinEx project.
|Software technical support||€11.000,00|
Note: Deployment costs cover the use of LinEx from the
start of the project in 2002 up until June 2003.
Based on a distribution of a minimum of 40,000 copies of the LinEx software in schools, the project has calculated to save a total amount of €30 million compared to more closed or non-free software solutions.
Paper version of this case study
FLOSS deployment in Extremadura, Spain - October 2003 (pdf. 269 Kb)
© European Communities 2004
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