The Trinidad and Tobago Linux Users Group and the FLOS Caribbean Conference

A conversation with one of the conference's organizers about the state of free and open source.

With the date drawing close for the FLOS Caribbean conference, which began yesterday, June 25, it had been quite busy down here in Trinidad and Tobago. Last minute preparations and adaptations were being made as quickly as possible, and there was no doubt the FLOS Caribbean conference would be a success in its own right.

A quiet man who is noted for his knowledge and ability to carry two or more bags anywhere in Trinidad, as well as a rolled up newspaper for the mailing list, Richard Jobity took the time to give us an interview. He's the President of the Trinidad and Tobago Linux User Group (TTLUG), and one of the main organizers of this conference.

LJ: Where do you see FLOS [being used] in Trinidad and Tobago now?

RJ: FLOS in Trinidad and Tobago... well, it's like the secret beach or undiscovered hideaway. It exists, and those who know it know it's great, but they don't necessarily want others to come along and spoil the cool thing they've got going.

People implement and use FLOS and gain the benefits and the savings, but they don't go out of their way to tell people they use and implement it. Sometimes it seems as if they are afraid of jeopardizing their existing agreements with proprietary software sellers or don't want to be seen as doing anything different, in the event of a failed implementation. Unfortunately, doing things differently is not seen as an asset.

LJ: What specific challenges do you see to FLOS in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as in the Caribbean?

RJ: The big challenge? The existing cultural mores that see nothing wrong with theft of software. With proprietary software being used illegally, there is no real incentive among the majority of [people] to use FLOS software. Legal and licensed use--apart from software legally bundled with computer systems (operating systems and utilities bundled on purchase of a new PC usually)--is not common among home users, and it exists only among corporate users because of the penalties under the law for noncompliance.

More ominously, when you have people committing large sums of money to gain certification for a company's products, you will not find these people trying anything different, [let alone] recommending anything else.

Also, the lack of "someone to call in an office" is a huge barrier. Bosses believe their standard software options give them security. Peer support simply does not appeal to them.

LJ: What would you like to see the conference accomplish?

RJ: A lot of things--me being ambitious again. First of all, to announce to the Trinidad, Tobago and Caribbean IT community that there is an alternative to the proprietary status quo. Secondly, to let people know about the local and regional options out there. Before the virtual alliances can be made, people need to know they exist and meet at a neutral venue. I would like to think that FLOS Caribbean can provide that venue.

Developers need a venue where they can meet and talk, even if they do not yet grasp the need to work together on common problems. Like sysadmins and trainers, they need to realize the benefits of collaboration to fix problems and improve the store of knowledge.

Accomplish? I've gotten some bites from people from some of our local government bodies who want to meet further to discuss what FLOS can do for them.

LJ: What do you see as the bigger picture of FLOS in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as in the Caribbean?

RJ: Independence, taking our place in the world of creators rather than simply being consumers of lowest-common-denominator consumer IT. Awareness, actually. The standard solution is not always the best one. If it makes people think, so much the better.

LJ: How do you see the TTLUG working toward the bigger picture?

RJ: We're the gateway. We show people the technology, and the people who attend can take it further in their organizations. When they're ready, we show them the cool stuff or turn them on to who can carry them further.

Many of these things already are coming to be as the conference approaches. Presentation College, a secondary school in San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago is in the process of evaluating FLOS for its students and administration. The Trinidad and Tobago National Library is rumored to be considering Koha for the library system. Most surprising to all involved with the conference was a recent revelation that Computers and Controls and its technology partner Hewlett Packard will be launching the Linux Initiative in Trinidad and Tobago on June 25th, 2003. This was a bit of a surprise, because the FLOS Caribbean conference has been well advertised, and one would think Computers and Controls would have been active in the FLOS Caribbean conference. Still, it's good news for Linux in Trinidad and Tobago and hopefully won't be diminished.

Taran Rampersad is a freelance writer and multiplatform FLOS developer; he also is a signer of the "Hey SCO, Sue Me" petition. He's presenting at the FLOS Caribbean conference and can be reached through his web site.

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